Former Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy groped, kissed female inmate and wasn’t prosecuted
A Sonoma County sheriff’s correctional deputy resigned in 2017 after his bosses sought to fire him for fondling and kissing a female inmate under his guard at the county jail, according to documents released last week under California’s new police transparency law.
Sheriff’s investigators forwarded their criminal case against Deputy Garrett Paulson to the Sonoma County District Attorney for charges stemming from sexual contact with an inmate, the documents show. But three months before Paulson resigned, District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s office declined to prosecute, saying the victim would not cooperate, the records show.
Joan Croft, a district attorney spokeswoman, said the internal affairs documents released Wednesday by the Sheriff’s Office contain more information than prosecutors had when they made their decision in May 2017 not to press charges. Croft said she could not comment further until the files were reviewed by the office.
An attorney for the female inmate, however, insisted she did cooperate with district attorney officials at the time.
She told an investigator the two had kissed, and that she stripped for Paulson, but she did not confirm sexual contact that he later admitted to, according to the records, including that he had touched her breast or buttocks, said Izaak Schwaiger, a Sonoma County civil rights attorney.
Paulson, reached via email, declined to comment for this story. He began Army training around the time he resigned, according to a Facebook post in July 2018. The Army could not immediately confirm his service.
The records detailing the inquiry into Paulson’s on-duty behavior were among five internal investigation files made public by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday under the police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421, that went into effect in January. The disclosure reflects a profound shift in California, where prior law barred most police disciplinary files and internal investigations from public disclosure.
Paulson, now 24, had worked for the Sheriff’s Office for just over a year when, in March 2017, his bosses started investigating him for sexual misconduct based on allegations made by a woman in the county’s main jail, which can house up to 284 female inmates.
The witness said in one instance she saw Paulson, who she referred to as “Perv Runner,” spend 15 minutes obstructed from view in another female inmate’s cell.
“Inmate (name redacted) reported hearing moaning during this time,” the documents show.
The witness reported her allegations on March 15. They included two separate incidents, though investigators could only document one. In the disclosed records, the county redacted the victim’s name and the name of the inmate who reported the activity.
It is a crime under state and federal law for correctional guards to have any sexual contact with inmates.
Sheriff Mark Essick said his department has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse, harassment or assault of detainees.
Essick said investigators intercepted Paulson at the start of his next shift on March 17.
“We moved pretty darn fast on this,” Essick said. “An allegation of sex between a correctional deputy and an inmate, that’s a big deal.”
The internal affairs investigation would ultimately conclude that on or about March 13 Paulson had violated department policies barring sexual contact of any kind with inmates, and voyeurism. And it found the deputy didn’t report his misconduct to superiors.