Strip searches lead to federal prison sentence for former Box Elder deputy
A federal judge sentenced a former Box Elder County sheriff's deputy to 18 months in prison Monday, saying the deputy violated the "highest trust" when he strip-searched women during routine traffic stops.
U.S. District Court Judge David Sam ordered Scott R. Womack to turn himself into the U.S. Marshals Service on or before Oct. 14. The judge agreed to the delay to allow Womack to deal with charges still pending in state court and with several health-related issues. Womack also faces three civil lawsuits in federal court.
Sam said that the conduct of Womack, as a law enforcement officer, was required to be beyond reproach.
"The violation of a woman's most intimate privacy is conduct that cannot be tolerated by a law officer who is held in a position of the highest trust," the judge said during the sentencing hearing.
Womack, 37, declined to make a statement during Monday's hearing.
He pleaded guilty in May to two misdemeanor counts of violating the civil rights of women he unlawfully strip-searched during routine traffic stops in 2010. According to state and federal charges, he ordered at least eight women to expose parts of their bodies after pulling them over on false pretexts between July 2010 and July 2011. He was fired in July 2011 after a victim filed a lawsuit.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped six other counts pending against Womack in federal court. According to the federal charges, Womack admitted he falsely told a woman he stopped in October 2010 that he pulled her over on an insurance violation. After she provided proof of insurance, Womack said there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest.
He then said that if the woman showed him her tattoos, he would be able to verify whether she was the wanted her person. The woman undid her pants and partially removed her clothing to expose her lower back and pelvic area. Womack then released her without issuing any citation. He used a similar ruse to get another woman to partially undress in July 2010.
Neither of the victims in the federal case attended the hearing, though another victim and her mother were present as were Womack's parents and wife.
In state court, Womack has pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of custodial sexual misconduct and attempted custodial misconduct. Nine other charges were dismissed. A state court judge has agreed to mirror Womack's federal sentence, and Sam ordered that the sentence run concurrently with Womack's federal term. Womack is set to be sentenced by 1st District Judge Kevin Allen on Aug. 21 at 10 a.m.
Ben Hamilton, an assistant federal defender representing Womack, told Sam on Monday that his client spent 16 years as a law enforcement officer before marital and family challenges after the adoption of a boy with autism led to substance-abuse problems, causing his life to begin "falling in around him." It was during this period, Hamilton said, that the embarrassment and stress led Womack to act uncharacteristically.
"He has been an individual who just does the best he can, to be the best individual he can," Hamilton said. "Any time he could, he was looking to help others."
Hamilton said Womack received treatment a week ago at a hospital after an anxiety attack and continues to struggle with mental and physical health issues. He asked Sam to place Womack, who remarried in the past year, on home confinement so he could continue to get mental health treatment and be a support to his family.
Hamilton said his client is scheduled for surgery Monday afternoon and again at the end of the month; he also is set to give depositions in the state court cases at the end of August.
"There is no need to protect the public," Hamilton said. "This was a brief period in his life when he was in a position of authority. ... The risk to the community is really nil with regards to Mr. Womack."
Prosecutor Carlos A. Esqueda said calling Womack an "enigma" did not quite capture the perplexity of the man, who he said was a "good" but not "great" cop during his law enforcement career. Esqueda said he was "disappointed" with the lack of candor Womack displayed during his psycho-sexual evaluation and noted the report described Womack as reluctant to admit certain conduct.
Sam, who in June delayed sentencing to allow Womack to undergo that evaluation, said he shared that concern, pointing to a series of questions to which Womack selected "undecided" as his answer. The questions had to do with objectification of women, an association between promiscuity and rape and whether some women unconsciously desire to be raped.
Hamilton said Womack's answers may be an "innocent" testing result, given the former deputy's "IQ" and due to his training as a law enforcement officer to not jump to conclusions. Hamilton later declined to clarify what he meant by the reference to Womack's IQ.
Sam said he received many letters of support for Womack and was "pleased" with some of the things he'd heard about the former deputy.
But, the judge said, "it is my view that factors in his favor do not outweigh that there needs to be a message sent this conduct will not be tolerated."