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Colorado inmate who claims deputy sexually assaulted her gets $150,000 settlement

OTERO COUNTY, Colo. — Officials in southeastern Colorado paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by an inmate who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by a guard at the Otero County Jail.

Jennifer Hernandez agreed to have her name made public, according to attorney David Lane.

In the lawsuit, Hernandez said she was sexually assaulted by former deputy Dominic Torres while she was held in the county jail and that other deputies retaliated against her after she reported the assault.

According to the lawsuit, Hernandez was brought to the jail as a pre-trial detainee on May 8, 2014.

The Otero County Jail holds men and women, and consists of six cells. The men’s cells and the women’s cell are only separated by bars, the lawsuit said.

The men in the adjacent cell can see and hear everything that occurs in the women’s cell.

There is only one deputy supervising the inmates at night and a dispatcher in another room who can only see parts of the cells through video cameras.

Hernandez claimed Sheriff Chris Johnson had female inmates shower at night, when a male deputy was working alone.

Hernandez claimed it was commonly known in the jail that Torres watched the female inmates undress and shower, sexually assaulted female inmates and gave contraband to inmates in exchange for sex.

The first night she was in jail, Hernandez said Torres took her cellphone from storage and showed nude photos of her to male inmates, without her knowledge or consent.

The male inmates told Hernandez that Torres gave her the phone, but asked that she send him explicit photos in exchange, according to the lawsuit.

On the night of May 12, 2014, Hernandez took her prescribed sleep aid, Seroquel, the lawsuit said.

Hernandez claims another female inmate tried to wake her up to tell her Torres was putting his hands under her blankets. Hernandez said she struggled to wake up and felt Torres sexually assaulting her.

Hernandez claimed Torres also withheld medication from a female inmate who refused to have sex with him, and had sex with another female inmate in exchange for a bag of coffee and a lighter.

Hernandez said the sexual encounters occurred in areas that were known to be blind spots for the cameras.

It was three days after Hernandez reported the sexual assault before La Junta police investigated her claims, the lawsuit said.

Torres was fired and later pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual conduct in a correctional institution. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, four years of probation and community service. He was required to register as a sex offender.

Hernandez said after she reported the sexual assault, other deputies at the facility ignored her cries for help when she was attacked by another inmate.

They refused to permanently separate her from that inmate until that inmate urinated on the floor of the cell and used Hernandez’s clothes to mop it up.

Hernandez also claimed the deputies took her toilet paper, hair brush and notes documenting the assault, and refused to return the items.

Her lawyer said she continues to be impacted by the events.

The county settled with Hernandez for $150,000 and paid her Wednesday.

According to her lawyer, Hernandez “wants the public to know that this is an ongoing problem, not just in Otero County but elsewhere.”

Hernandez is in the San Luis Valley Community Corrections residential program, according to the lawsuit.