Case Against Salazar Reinstated
by William J. Bechaver
HUERFANO- The U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a lawsuit against former Huerfano County Sheriff John Salazar.
The lawsuit stems from alleged incidents of sexual abuse of female inmates by male jailers, beginning nearly a decade ago. At least three of the jailers were convicted of the assaults back in 1998 and 2001. At that time, one of the inmates filed a lawsuit against Huerfano Sheriff Salazar, alleging that he was aware of the instances of abuse, and of other negligent conditions in the jail, but failed to act. The case was originally heard by Senior Judge Richard Matsch in Colorado’s U. S. District Court. The suit was promptly dismissed by Matsch on the grounds of lack of substantial evidence.
The decision last week to overturn Judge Matsch’s dismissal, was made by a State Appeals Court in Denver. In their report, they issued a warning for all sheriffs regarding inhumane jail conditions.
Other documented incidents of disorderly conduct and inappropriate behavior were reported at the time, and these were also cited in the court’s report, as it was believed that Sheriff Salazar was aware of the instances, but offhandedly dismissed the reports, and that he was also believed to be aware of dangerous conditions within the jail, but allegedly did nothing to remedy the situation.
The charges allege that the ex-sheriff was indifferent to the constitutional rights of the inmates in his custody, which allowed violations by his detention staff to go unchecked, putting those detained in the jail in danger. The court cited Salazar’s many deficiencies in running the jail. They include his not taking complaints by inmates seriously, nor following up the reports with an adequate investigations. The court also said Salazar failed to conduct scheduled employee evaluations, and did not perform regular criminal background checks on the jailers in his employ. The court felt Salazar knowingly hired staff members with criminal records, rarely visited the jail, ignored numerous problems, and refused to implement suggested remedies.
No second warning has been needed here in Huerfano County. Since Salazar’s ouster, procedures at the jail have been updated, implemented, and followed, under the guidance of Sheriff Bruce Newman. Improvements include established procedures by which inmates can report instances of unsatisfactory conditions, periodic background checks and reevaluations of employees, and providing regular training programs for jail staff.