'Team sexual harassment' at Davis County Jail investigated; deputies demoted

Monday , May 07, 2018 - 5:51 PM9 comments

FARMINGTON — Three male corrections deputies known as “team sexual harassment” by some female staff members swarmed around young clerks in the Davis County Jail for at least two years, while two senior sheriff’s office commanders failed to stop it, according to documents from a human resources investigation.

The deputies flirted with new female employees, harassed them for phone numbers and otherwise pestered the women with sexually suggestive banter, not stopping even after being rebuffed by the women, say the reports, obtained with an open records request.

RELATED: 5 Davis sheriff's deputies disciplined after sexual harassment of jail workers

The reports detail dozens of incidents, including a deputy grabbing a clerk’s buttock while she used an exercise machine in the jail gym in 2016.

One of the deputies was found by investigators to have sexually touched a female staff member in the back of a car en route to the funeral of a staff member’s relative. The same deputy masturbated into a paper cup and gave it to a clerk, saying it was her daily protein serving, the investigation said.

The investigation, which began in January after female jail employees came forward, concluded in March. One deputy quit before disciplinary actions were formalized. Another was put on unpaid leave for five days and the other for two days.

The command officers, Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Fielding and Capt. Enrique Jaquez, were demoted. Sheriff Todd Richardson demoted Fielding to captain’s rank and Undersheriff Brent Peters knocked Jaquez down to lieutenant.

The county Human Resources Department investigation said multiple employees alleged the actions of “team sexual harassment” — also known as the “sexual harassment trio” and “the creeper crew” — made female employees leave the sheriff’s office. Fielding and Jaquez were aware and did not document the problems, reports said.

“On grave shift they would all flock to the (jail) pod,” one female staff member said. “They were looking for a relationship with us. They were not looking for friendship. Very persistent.”

Another said, “The clerks were warning other young and attractive clerks to be careful around these guys.”

The three deputies, identified as Nicholas Chard, Larry Hubbard and Preston Ellsworth, were informally counseled in 2014 by lower-level supervisors to quit harassing young female clerks, and in 2016, after the buttock-grabbing incident, were told to not work out in the gym at the same time as young female staff members.

One line supervisor interviewed about the gym incident said Jaquez responded, “Whatever” and “blew it off.”

“Fielding was aware of an internal subculture of employees who regularly engage in conversation about their own sexual activities and-or draw naked pictures of their female partners and did not address it,” the HR office reported.

“This is not a secret,” one employee told the investigators. “It has been going on because of the good ol’ boys club.”

The employee said one line supervisor of the trio “protected his boys. Everything goes to Fielding and stops there. There was a pattern of things going to Jaquez and Fielding and dying there.”

The three deputies also were members of a private Facebook group in which participants posted nude photos, including those of some co-workers, the reports said.

Ellsworth tried to get a clerk’s cell phone number after he had been told to leave her alone, according to the reports.

Ellsworth also was found to have been exchanging sexually explicit text messages with a female deputy, who was not his wife.

Deputy Chard stalked an 18-year-old former jail inmate, showing up at her workplace while off duty and harassing her with emails, instant messages and Facebook posts, investigators said. Her mother complained to jail commanders but no action was taken.

Hubbard and the other two trapped a female clerk in a jail hallway and would not let her pass without a hug, the report said. Another jail employee saw the incident, in which the woman pushed and fought the embrace.

In their interviews with Human Resources, the three denied flagrant conduct and explained it as harmless office camaraderie.

Staff members told investigators there was a lack of accountability by the jail leadership.

“They reference a saying in Corrections, which is, ‘When I mess up, I sure hope there is enough room left under the rug.’”

Jaquez said he was aware of some problems but may not have deserved written discipline.

“I had a sense in the beginning these guys were predators and taking advantage,” he told investigators. “We heard rumors that these officers would always gather in the areas where the young clerks were. The complaints were not that they were harassing. It was … they were spending too much time with the pretty girls. The complaints were too nebulous.”

The Human Resources investigation addressed policy violations only. Sexual harassment is subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal. Richardson, the elected sheriff, is responsible for any disciplinary decisions. 

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