Ex-jailer accused of abusing inmate sues county, jail and commander

Published: Thursday, June 21 2012 6:07 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A former Wasatch County jailer accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate is alleging the inmate was coming on to him, that he tried to avoid her and that his termination was the fault of jail officials.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court Wednesday, Christopher Epperson alleges that Wasatch County, the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office and Susan Winterton, a female deputy commander at the Wasatch County Jail, violated his civil rights, wrongfully terminated him and caused him emotional distress.

Epperson is facing criminal charges and a civil lawsuit in connection with allegations that he sexually abused a female inmate. But in the federal complaint, he says he was discriminated against by Winterton and harassed by the inmate.

In the complaint, Epperson said there was "pervasive sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual activities occurring" among employees in the sheriff's office.

Epperson said he is an active member of the LDS Church who found the behavior offensive, but any attempt to address his concerns left him "criticized and mocked by others throughout the department." Winterton was Epperson's supervisor and is accused of treating him and other male employees harshly "by publicly criticizing and belittling them; changing policies and procedures on a whim and then punishing employees for failing to comply; reprimanding employees for failing to comply satisfactorily with her contradictory or incomplete instructions; undermining employees' authority and credibility with the inmates; and being disrespectful in her language and demeanor."

He also alleges that Winterton would side with female inmates over male employees when there were disagreements or conflict.

"Because of Commander Winterton's failure to support, train, supervise and assist plaintiff and other male employees, plaintiff was wrongly accused by a female inmate of sexual harassment and subsequently lost his job and became subject to civil and criminal proceedings," the complaint states.

In April 2010, Epperson said he noticed the female inmate "was taking an interest in him and other male officers at the jail and that the inmate's behavior was becoming increasingly inappropriate," according to the complaint.

After the inmate allegedly tried to inappropriately touch Epperson, he went to Winterton, who told him to ignore her. When he asked for a shift change so he could better avoid the woman, Winterton told him staffing issues didn't allow for the change, the complaint states. He eventually told Winterton he was going to complete a write-up on the inmate, but was allegedly told by Winterton that there was no point because she "was simply going to dismiss it."

The lawsuit states that Epperson he was never allowed to respond to the inmate Julie Hoggan's claims and that he has since suffered loss of wages, physical illness, lack of sleep and extreme anxiety. He is asking for punitive damages and compensation for past and future losses.

Epperson is facing five counts of deprivation of rights under color of law in connection with alleged incidents in December 2009 and January 2010. He was also named in a lawsuit filed by Hoggan against Epperson, Wasatch County and the sheriff's office.

Hoggan's suit contends Epperson ordered her to expose herself so he could photograph her, according to the lawsuit, and also showed her photos of his genitalia. Hoggan alleges Epperson backed her into a corner where he groped her and forced her to fondle him. On one occasion, the suit claims, he attempted to forcibly sodomize her.

Epperson denied the allegations in a response to the lawsuit.

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