A former Wasatch County Sheriff’s deputy pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to taking advantage of his position as a jail guard to physically abuse two female inmates.
Christopher Stein Epperson, 35, pleaded guilty to two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, admitting that in December 2009 and September 2010 he caused bodily injury to two inmates at the Wasatch County Jail by touching the women’s breasts; he also touched one inmate’s genitals.
Each count carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. U.S. District Judge David Sam will sentence Epperson on Nov. 4.
Epperson initially faced nine counts related to violating the inmates’ rights and four counts of unauthorized access to a computer. A trial was set to begin Sept. 9.
Epperson was fired in October 2010.
Both victims have filed civil lawsuits that name Epperson, the Wasatch County Jail and the Utah Department of Corrections as defendants. One victim alleges in her lawsuit that Epperson began making sexually suggestive comments about her appearance shortly after she was placed at the jail inMarch 2010, and those comments quickly escalated in intensity, frequency and luridness. When the inmate refused to lift her shirt so Epperson could take photos of her breasts with his cellphone, he allegedly threatened to place her in lock-down status. She then complied. He then allegedly began taking her to a windowless room at night where he took additional photographs and molested her.
According to the inmate’s lawsuit, Epperson threatened to file paperwork that would result in a longer sentence if she reported his behavior. Despite those threats, the inmate reported the assaults to staff and caseworkers at the jail, but no action was taken.
The other victim alleges Epperson sexually assaulted her while she was at the jail between September 2009 and April 2010.
Epperson was fired in October 2010. He sued the county, the sheriff’s department and the deputy jail commander in June 2012 alleging he was wrongfully fired and that a discriminatory and permissive environment at the jail led to false accusations of sexual harassment from a female inmate. That case was put on hold last year pending the resolution of the criminal charges.