UPDATED: Benton County jail officer fired for sexual misconduct

Tri-City HeraldApril 18, 2014 

— The Benton County Sheriff’s Office fired an eight-year veteran corrections officer Friday for allegedly inappropriately touching a female inmate.

Oscar Gonzalez’s termination came after a nearly two-week investigation, Sheriff Steve Keane said during a Friday press conference.

Along with more than a dozen policy violations, Gonzalez also faces a second-degree custodial sexual misconduct charge, said Terry Bloor, a Benton County deputy prosecutor.

“It’s important for us to aggressively investigate these cases,” Keane said. “We are showing we are holding people accountable.”

Gonzalez had no prior disciplinary problems and had favorable performance reviews, officials said. He is scheduled to be arraigned on May 1.

Officials at the sheriff's office confirmed earlier this week there was an internal investigation into the allegations. It is a crime to have sexual contact with an inmate if you work at the jail.

Keane said his office learned of the allegations on April 6, when the 39-year-old victim, who was in a work-release program, came into the jail intoxicated. During a subsequent conversation with corrections officials she spoke about Gonzalez touching her inappropriately.

Gonzalez was immediately placed on paid leave as an internal investigation was conducted, Keane said. That investigation turned up “clear and convincing information,” including video footage, that Gonzalez had made inappropriate physical contact with the victim.

The corrections officer and victim, who is still in custody, apparently became acquainted through her visits to the jail, Keane said, and it appears the inappropriate contact happened only in the jail.

“Oftentimes, with situations like this, it starts with little compromises,” Keane said.

Though the victim wasn’t a regular inmate, work release is still a form of custody and Gonzalez still had authority over her.

“You can’t really give consent or do something willingly when there’s someone over you,” Keane said.

A Franklin County corrections officer resigned recently after admitting to sexual contact with an inmate. The state attorney general's office is reviewing the case to determine whether to file criminal charges.

Keane said there are circumstances where he would allow one of his deputies or officers to resign if they unintentionally committed a fireable offense. Gonzalez’s violation of public trust, however, is something he chose to do.

“They all understand what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said.

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