Former Benton County officer pleads innocent to groping allegations

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldMay 1, 2014 

A former corrections officer pleaded innocent Thursday to allegations he groped a female inmate after making sure they were the only two in a holding cell.

Oscar Gonzalez, 35, faces a July 7 trial in Benton County Superior Court on one count of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct.

Gonzalez had been a corrections officer for eight years when he was fired April 18 by Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane.

The sheriff said his office spent two weeks aggressively investigating the matter, then fired Gonzalez to show "we are holding people accountable."

The sheriff's office learned of the allegations April 6 when the 39-year-old woman, who was in the work-release program, came into the jail intoxicated, Keane said. She reportedly revealed what happened during a subsequent conversation with corrections officials.

Gonzalez was immediately placed on paid leave.

It is a crime for a law enforcement officer to have sexual contact with a person who is in his or her custody and may believe the officer can influence the conditions or length of incarceration.

According to court documents, the woman said Gonzalez groped her and tried to kiss her.

Sheriff's Detective Scott Runge reviewed jail video and found footage from a transport holding cell. Gonzalez is seen at one point taking a female inmate out of a holding cell, then re-entering the cell so he was alone with the victim, documents said.

After a short conversation between the two, the inmate lifted up her top before pulling it down.

Gonzalez then lifted up the woman's top and undershirt and the two appeared to be leaning toward each other, possibly to kiss, court documents said. The camera angle blocked some of the exchange.

However, Runge also found video from the end of Gonzalez's shift and it shows the corrections officer going into the woman's cell, lifting her shirt with his right hand, groping her and apparently leaning in again as if to kiss her, documents said.

Gonzalez initially denied the incident, then allegedly said he "got caught up in the moment," court documents said.

He admitted touching her "in a passing motion" and kissing her on the cheek, and going into her cell before he got off work to give her a kiss goodnight, documents said.

Gonzalez has been ordered to have no contact with the woman. He remains out of custody on his personal recognizance after showing up to court on a summons.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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