Court reinstates Huerfano County jail lawsuit |

Court reinstates Huerfano County jail lawsuit

DENVER, Colorado ” An appeals court panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by an inmate against a former Huerfano County sheriff, alleging that he allowed conditions that led to her being sexually assaulted by an officer at the county jail.

U.S. District Judge Matsch had dismissed the lawsuit filed by Michelle Tafoya on grounds that she failed to provide evidence that former Sheriff John Salazar was aware of a substantial risk of harm to female inmates, or that his management directly led to her being assaulted in 2001 by Alan Ruiz, who was convicted of assaulting Tafoya.

In a 3-0 ruling Feb. 21, a panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

Tafoya was assaulted three years after two other female inmates were assaulted by male detention officers at the jail, the panel said. Those assaults also led to lawsuits.

“After the 1998 assaults, Sheriff Salazar made only minimal efforts to address the glaring safety problems at the jail,” the ruling said.

The ruling also cited an “undisciplined culture of ‘anything goes’ among detention officers” that Salazar did not address. Salazar was sheriff from 1995 to 2003.

Ruiz also is a defendant in Tafoya’s lawsuit. At the time of her assault, she was serving a one-year sentence.

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