Two young women told investigators in Mesa, Ariz., that one of the department’s former officers had groped and sexually assaulted them 11 years earlier at sleepovers.
The handwritten report from 1995 doesn’t explain the steps detectives took next, but within months, the case went dormant. An investigator wrote that there was scant evidence and no likelihood that Officer Gerald Salcido would ever be convicted.
Years went by.
Salcido moved to Utah, where he worked as a Provo officer for 12 years and then another decade as a deputy with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.
While he was working for Provo, he allegedly confessed to his crimes — not to police, but to his wife and his Mormon bishop. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicated Salcido in 2006, but it appears church officials never told investigators about the confession.
Only a dozen years later, when the mother of one of the victims complained to police in Arizona, did Salcido end up arrested and charged with molestation. That happened this January.
A recently obtained police report sheds light on the role religious leaders played in this on-again, off-again investigation that has left the victims frustrated, yet hopeful the man they say molested them some 30 years ago may yet face a prison sentence.
‘I do not feel it warrants any further follow-up’
She was 19 years old in 1995 when she decided to tell her parents about how Salcido, a family member, went into the bedroom she was sleeping in and sexually assaulted her in 1984. Her younger sister had a similar experience.
“We didn’t know each other’s stories growing up,” the now-42-year-old Arizona woman told The Salt Lake Tribune last week. “We just needed to tell our story and get it out.”
The allegations, made more than a decade after the alleged abuse, divided her family, the woman said. Some believed the sisters; many didn’t.
Her parents told the Mesa Police Department about their daughters’ disclosures.
An officer wrote a report based on interviews with the two teenagers, but within months, Detective Jerry Gissel wrote: “I do not feel it warrants any further follow-up investigation.”
Beyond the initial report, no other records exist that outline the efforts police took in the 1990s to look into the claims.
As the case was re-investigated in 2017, Gissel told a Mesa officer that he remembered the accusations against Salcido, whom he worked with in Mesa in the 1980s. He was surprised that no paper trail existed.
“Jerry advised me that many steps were taken into the investigation,” a detective wrote in the most recent police report, “including a confrontational phone call, and even a trip up to Utah where Gerald was working in law enforcement at the time of the report. An interview was conducted with Gerald, but no admissions were made.”
As Gissel was conducting his investigation in 1995, Mormon church officials also got involved.
A flurry of letters were sent between bishops in Utah and Arizona and family members in the year after the sisters’ initial disclosures to police, according to the recently obtained report.
An Arizona bishop wrote in a 1995 letter to his stake president, who oversees multiple congregations, that he wanted to make sure Salcido was investigated in Utah and that “the allegations seem truthful.” Another letter from a Utah bishop in 1996 expressed concern and explained the church’s disciplinary process.
‘So why were the police never called?’
But the church did not take any internal action against Salcido until 10 years later, when he allegedly confessed to his then-wife and his Utah bishop. His wife told a Mesa police officer last year that Salcido confessed in 2006 to molesting the two girls, along with three other children who attended Sunday school classes in Mesa.
The confession led to Salcido’s excommunication, according to the police report, but it does not appear church leaders alerted police to the admission.
“I am angry,” the accuser said Wednesday. “I feel like [church leaders] cover up a lot of things, and I honestly feel like that’s what happened. He went to his bishop. He was excommunicated. So why were the police never called?”
It’s something Salcido’s family found puzzling too, according to the 2017 police report.
“They often wondered why nothing happened,” the detective wrote in the report, “and why [Salcido] has never been arrested, until recently realizing that the information had never been relayed to police that [he] confessed.”
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
When asked about the case, Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the LDS Church, did not address whether anyone from the church contacted police after Salcido’s excommunication.
Hawkins said when the allegations were first brought to light, Salcido’s bishop in Utah confronted him and then cooperated with police. Meanwhile, another bishop in Arizona assisted the accusers’ family as it reported the abuse to Arizona law enforcement.
“Authorities did not choose to prosecute at that time,” Hawkins said. “Years later, the church was contacted again by authorities and cooperated with a new investigation. We are supportive of the efforts of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute this matter.”
Clergy in Arizona are required to report child abuse to police or child welfare agents unless they discover the abuse through, according to the statute, “confidential communication or a confession.”
Utah similarly does not require clergy to report child abuse if the information comes in a confession from the perpetrator. However, the Utah statute requires clergy to report if the information comes from any other source.
In a presentation to victims’ rights advocates in Arizona, lawyers for the Mormon church have said it is not optional to report a suspected offender to LDS leaders so a disciplinary council can be held.
‘I hope that he goes to prison’
The only reason the case resurfaced in 2017, the accuser said, was that her mother called Mesa police and asked about the statute of limitations — and told police Salcido had confessed to church leaders.
A Mesa detective re-interviewed the alleged victims and their family members. He concluded that because their accounts remained consistent, coupled with Salcido’s alleged confessions, there was sufficient evidence to charge the man with crimes that took place more than 30 years ago.
And in January, Salcido was arrested in Utah.
He was charged in Maricopa County, Ariz., with two counts of molestation of a child and two counts of sexual conduct with a minor. Court records list the offense dates as 1980, two instances in 1984 and an allegation in 1985.
Salcido has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney, Matthew Long, said he felt the case was “troubling,” because authorities already investigated so many years ago and felt there was not enough evidence to move forward then.
“The system that’s in place harms victims and defendants alike in these types of cases,” he said. “Because it doesn’t do the victim any good to bring cases many, many years later that weren’t adequately investigated. But too often, what [prosecutors] are relying on is that the allegations are so shocking and so disturbing that the truth doesn’t matter.”
Salcido has posted bail, but his attorney would not disclose whether his client is currently living in Utah or Arizona.
Salcido was fired from his job as a Utah County deputy in January — not over the Arizona allegations, authorities said, but because he missed shifts “without adequate cause.”
He worked for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years. He had most recently been working night security at the Utah County Health & Justice building in Provo, according to the Mesa police report.
Before working for the sheriff’s office, Salcido worked at the Provo Police Department for 12 years, beginning in 1992. Officials there say they never knew about the 1995 allegations and never received any other misconduct complaints about Salcido.
The woman who reported the abuse said this week that her feelings are complicated after Salcido’s arrest. She’s still angry about how church leaders handled the case, and she’s not pleased that Salcido was allowed bail and is now out of jail. But she’s happy that, even 30 years later, her case is finally moving forward.
“He should be in prison,” she said. “I hope that he goes to prison and he’s not around other children.”