Otero County has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a female inmate who was sexually assaulted by an Otero County jail guard.
Jennifer Hernandez received the settlement Wednesday, according to her attorney, David Lane of Denver.
The guard, Dominic Torres, was fired and later pleaded guilty to criminal charges, Lane said. Hernandez said she wanted her name to be used because she wants sexually abusive incidents in jails to cease.
Otero County Sheriff Shawn Mobley, who was not sheriff at the time, said his predecessor made changes and he, too, has improved procedures to avoid similar problems, including requiring recruits to take psychological tests and performing in-depth background checks.
“We weeded out some guys with aberrant behaviors,” Mobley said. “We have policies that are much more strict.”
Hernandez was arrested on May 8, 2014 and held in one of the jail’s six cells. That first night, Torres was the only night shift guard for the jail.
A dispatcher was also in the building and monitored cameras of the jail, but camera views had blind spots, the federal lawsuit filed in Denver U.S. District Court says. Mobley said the jail added new cameras to ensure all areas are covered.
According to jail policy, deputies supervised inmates while they were showering at night. The lawsuit says having male deputies perform the task aggravated the risk of sexual assault.
Mobley said the jail now always has male and female officers on duty at all times to ensure that male officers don’t supervise women showering.
Torres would watch them undress and watch them shower each night, the lawsuit says. Other female inmates told Hernandez that Torres would flirt with women.
That first night, Torres told Hernandez that she was pretty and told her to “flash” her breasts and buttocks. Using her cellular phone Torres took nude pictures of Hernandez and showed them to male inmates, the lawsuit says. When she demanded her phone back, Torres asked that in exchange for the camera back, she should send nude pictures of herself and kissing other female inmates.
On May 12, 2014, Torres allegedly exposed his penis to Hernandez and asked her to perform oral sex, the lawsuit says. On the same night, while she slept, Torres reached into her cell and fondled her sexually, it says. He warned her if she said anything he would plant contraband on her to incriminate her, the lawsuit said.
On May 13, 2014, Torres refused medicine to another female inmate who refused to perform a sex act, the lawsuit says. The next day, he gave a bag of coffee and a lighter to an inmate in exchange for sex, the lawsuit says. He put a blanket over the woman’s bunk bed, but other inmates could see them having sex.
Hernandez reported Torres on May 16, 2014. The guard was fired and later charged with two counts of introduction of contraband and two counts of sexual assault. He later served 30 days in jail, the lawsuit says.
In retaliation, jail guards left Hernandez with inmates who had already assaulted her, the lawsuit says.