A former officer within the Chaves County Detention Center has been charged with a second-degree felony in light of a 9-month investigation by the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office that alleges he engaged in sexual activity with a female inmate in her own jail cell.
An arrest warrant for 23-year-old Stephen A. Miranda was obtained on Wednesday, Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder said in a news release Thursday.
The sheriff further explained the significance of the second-degree charge, saying that the count becomes a higher degree felony when the victim is an inmate confined in a correctional facility or jail when the perpetrator is in a position of authority.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Chaves County Magistrate Court, detective Raul L. Valderaz of the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office was notified of an incident at the detention center involving a female inmate by two different sergeants.
The victim, a 33-year-old woman, had told authorities she wanted to report a sexual assault. A Chaves County sheriff’s deputy told the detective that video he had observed from the detention center had confirmed the woman’s statements.
“After speaking with him, we proceeded to the interview room at the Chaves County Detention Center, where (I) met with (the victim), who (was) observed to be visibly upset,” the detective wrote. “(I) attempted to tell her (I) would be conducting this investigation, but (I) could not get her to listen to (me.)”
Detective Valderaz said he then left the room to give the inmate time to calm herself and, instead, went to look at the video footage provided by CCDC personnel. The video was dated at April 12, according to the complaint.
The detective said he observed Miranda sitting on a stool in the booking area of the jail. At about 3:57 p.m., he saw Miranda begin to speak with the inmate.
“(I) observed the defendant open the door to the cell and start a conversation with (the victim,)” Valderaz wrote.
The detective said he told CCDC staff that he had seen enough to conclude a sexual misconduct had occurred.
A review with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners was set up for the victim.
The detective then proceeded back to the interview room, took photographs of the 33-year-old and proceeded with the original interview.
The victim, still upset, according to reports, said she wanted to speak to the district attorney and the “Bureau.”
The woman also asked if they were going to use a rape kit on her, to which the officer confirmed would happen immediately after the interview.
The detective said the victim showed hesitance when asked to retell the story to investigators.
“She stated he was being sexually suggestive,” the complaint stated.
After the detective asked how Miranda was acting suggestive, she became upset again, and the interview was concluded.
Authorities were able to speak with a nurse for SANE. After they told the nurse the victim was willing to take a sexual assault kit, police agreed to bring her to the examination.
Valderaz then went to the sheriff’s office to interview Miranda about the allegations made toward him.
After being told about a video the detective had observed, Miranda was read his Miranda rights.
Miranda declined to speak, and said he wanted an attorney, according to the complaint.
After the detective concluded the interview, Miranda asked if they could tell him what was on the video.
“(I) told him (I) could not, unless he agreed to tell (me) due to him invoking his right not to speak with (me,)” Valderaz wrote. “(Miranda) again invoked his right to speak with an attorney.”
On April 13, a day after the alleged incident, Valderaz further analyzed the video. He said within the approximate 10-minute event, it appears that the inmate performed a sexual act with Miranda.
“Based on (my) observation of the video, it appeared to be a consensual encounter between (the victim) and officer Miranda,” the detective wrote.
After the encounter, Valderaz said he could then see Miranda continually going back to speak with the inmate, even after contacting incoming shift personnel and giving his equipment to another detention officer.
On April 14, two days after the incident, detective Valderaz applied for and obtained a warrant for Miranda’s DNA. Two oral swabs were obtained from Miranda.
On April 18, Chaves County detective Maria Wilson interviewed the victim of the alleged sexual assault.
The victim told authorities she wanted to get ahold of the Justice Department due to the abuse she was still sustaining due to the incident she had with Miranda, claiming she had been thrown to the ground by guards on two different occasions for no apparent reason.
Clarifying Miranda’s alleged sexual forwardness, the victim told investigators that on April 11, a day before the incident, the former officer had asked her, “What would you do for me to help you — to get off Loss of Privileges,” and then spoke about potential sexual activities the two could partake in.
The next day, on April 12, the victim told police Miranda did the same thing, but was a lot more aggressive about it.
Further into the interview, the victim told authorities Miranda was pressuring her to disrobe.
“She said he was consistently there and she could not walk away,” the complaint stated.
The victim said Miranda opened her cell door, and told her perform an inappropriate activity on him. Indecent physical activity soon followed, the victim told authorities.
The victim said she reported the incident to a sergeant at the CCDC, and that it was reported immediately to law enforcement.
When asked about the apparent barter of sexual activity in exchange for getting off Loss of Privileges, the victim told police she did not agree with Miranda.
“She stated she ignored him and figured he was stupid,” the complaint stated.
The detective told the victim that, based off of the video, the activity appeared to be consensual. The victim was asked to confirm their intuition.
“(The victim) stated it was not consensual,” the complaint stated. “Detective Wilson asked her if she agreed to sex. She stated no, it was not. She stated she had been abused in the past. She stated (Miranda) came to her like a wolf in sheep clothing, knowing she was already vulnerable and talks to her in that way.”
According to a forensic laboratory report from the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, human male DNA was identified on the victim’s pants and shirt, but not a sufficient amount for further testing.
Sheriff Snyder said Miranda was apprehended in Lea County Wednesday evening after he was pulled over for a speeding violation.
Miranda is being held in the Lea County Detention Center on the felony charge and is awaiting return to Chaves County, the sheriff said.
“The job our Chaves County Detention Center staff performs for our society is a difficult one,” Snyder said. “Having started my career in law enforcement as a jailer, I understand how difficult and underappreciated that job is.”
Snyder said Chaves County employees work very hard to maintain a secure and professional facility.
“Anytime a detention officer violates the trust placed in them, it tends to reflect badly on them all,” he said. “I can assure you, both our detention officers and their administration will be the first ones to tell you they will not tolerate bad behavior and they will cooperate in every possible way to make sure you are rooted out and prosecuted in necessary.
“They run a very professional facility and I and my agency are proud to play a part in helping to protect their integrity and honor.”
Miranda, who was employed at the Detention Center for approximately 7 months prior to the investigation, is charged with criminal sexual penetration in the second degree in Chaves County Magistrate Court.
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.