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Judge questions whether sex abuse was 'invited,' orders probation for jailer

Victim, advocate say such comments are why women don't always report sex crimes

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014 9:35 p.m. MST

Eventually, Epperson was released from jail. She said she tried to get someone to listen to her story for two years, but it wasn't until she was sent back to the jail and an attorney asked what was wrong that someone paid attention.

Federal prosecutors charged Epperson with nine counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and four counts of unauthorized access to a computer in March 2012. He pleaded guilty to the two counts of deprivation in August.

Still, a pre-sentence report apparently only recommended probation. Though the report reflected a plea to simple assault, assistant U.S. attorney Carlos Esqueda argued that Epperson "engaged in conduct amounting to aggravated sexual abuse."

The pre-sentence report also didn't take into account the position of trust that Epperson held.

"As a jail guard the defendant was directly responsible to ensure the safety and care of the inmates," Esqueda wrote. "Furthermore, his status as a jail guard places him with significant power over the victims and he utilized that position to commit and conceal his crimes."

The report also failed to include an increase in sentencing factors for obstruction of justice, which Esqueda said Epperson did by threatening the victims. He told them that if they didn't keep quiet about the abuse, he would take away their privileges.

"Here the defendant used his position of authority or power over the victims to ensure their silence of the abuse," Esqueda wrote, adding that Epperson also initially lied to police and denied any of the inappropriate touching. "The defendant has continually placed blame on the victims or others for his conduct and has never fully admitted the egregiousness of his conduct by claiming he was ill-trained or that he inadvertently touched the breasts or genitalia of the victims."

Esqueda requested at least four years in prison. The maximum sentence Epperson faced was 20 years in prison.

"The defendant's sentence should send a message that no matter where you are, who you are, what your circumstances in your life are, the law will protect you," he told the judge.

Sam indicated that he reviewed the case against Scott Womack, a former Box Elder County sheriff's deputy who pleaded guilty to illegally strip-searching women at traffic stops, because he felt that the allegations were similar. The judge noted that in his 50 years of experience in the criminal justice system, he had "never had a case quite like this one," the transcript reads.

"I want to say, you know, this case is a case that I mean it's so involved and so many things he said, she said, she said, he said, she said he did, he said she did, and it just goes back and forth," Sam said.

Esqueda also referenced the Womack case and quoted Sam's own words from the sentencing in that case.

"And the court said, and I quote, 'The violation of a woman's most intimate privacy is conduct that cannot be tolerated by a law enforcement officer who is held in a position of the highest trust,'" Esqueda said. "Sound, compelling words by this court. Our community can learn from those words. But in the Womack case there was no touching. That doesn't excuse his behavior. And this court sentenced him to 24 months in prison for not touching a single woman."

Sam corrected the man and said the sentence was 18 months. Later, he said there is a "great difference" between the two cases.

"We have innocent people on the highways of this country and state traveling back and forth all the time, and when a law officer stops someone, it should be for a legitimate reason, and when that law officer breaches that, it is serious to me ...," Sam said. "In this case, there are so many statements in this record that go back and forth. I need not quote those statements. Those statements speak for themselves. There are serious matters regarding the credibility of the two victims, and the record speaks for itself."

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