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UW student sues Albany County Sheriff's Office over sexual assault investigation
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UW student sues Albany County Sheriff's Office over sexual assault investigation

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A University of Wyoming student is suing the Albany County Sheriff’s Office alleging two of its investigators pressured her to recant a sexual assault allegation against a fellow student.

Filed in February, the federal lawsuit alleges that the two deputies — Christian Handley and Aaron Gallegos — “cross-examined” a female UW student in February 2017 after she accused an acquaintance of sexually assaulting her. The lawsuit includes a transcript, in which the two deputies tell the student her story is inconsistent and that the suspect is a “good guy” who shouldn’t have his life ruined.

“This could potentially ruin him for 20 years down the line, be a sex offender for the rest of his life,” Gallegos told the accuser. Because of the nature of the alleged crime, the Star-Tribune will not name the plaintiff. “Would you want that to happen, spend 20 years in prison for an alleged rape when it was consensual, it was weird, it happened, but he didn’t rape you?”

The lawsuit alleges that the deputies coerced a recantation of the allegation from the accuser, who regularly interacted with the suspect via a school activity. It alleges the department violated federal equal protection laws because the two men were allegedly “motivated by animus against (the accuser’s) sex, sexual orientation and sexual identity.” The deputies describe the woman as a lesbian in their interview with her, according to the transcript.

The suit further alleges the deputies extracted a coerced confession and that the department had failed to train its deputies.

In separation motions, attorneys for both the state and the sheriff’s department asked a federal judge to throw out the lawsuit. They contend it did not meet the standard for such a claim and denied that the woman was discriminated against because of her sexuality or sex. The state also alleges that the woman didn’t have a confession coerced from her because she wasn’t charged, arrested or convicted of anything.

“While Gallegos and Handley used a leading and narrative method of questioning, neither the style of questioning nor the type of questions they asked show their intent to discriminate against (the woman) because of her sex, sexual orientation or sexual identity,” a senior assistant attorney general wrote, adding that “while (the woman) may be dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation, she failed to show that either defendant intentionally discriminated against her.”

The judge has yet to rule on the motions. Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill declined to comment. Messages sent to both the accuser’s and the sheriff’s attorneys were not returned Monday.

The transcript shows that the investigators said they believed the woman’s story to be “blown out of proportion” and pressed her not to “ruin this guy’s life.” In this final conversation with investigators, the woman acknowledged that she kissed the suspect and had consensual sex with him. But the next morning, when they had intercourse again, it was not consensual, she told deputies, and the suspect held her arms down.

“I would not call it consensual that morning,” she said. “I want to be very clear about that.”

The two deputies pressed her, in an interview dominated by what the accuser’s lawyers call “soliloquies” and “monologues” by the two men. The two tell the woman that her friend, after hearing about what happened, was the one who turned it into a sexual assault allegation, that the accuser was a good person, and that she wouldn’t be charged with making a false report. The two asked if she was attracted to the man and wondered why she went home with him. They suggest she turned it into a rape allegation after it became “awkward” afterward.

“Did he physically hold you down and tie you down and rape you; is that what you’re saying?” Handley asked her.

“I mean, he held my arms down,” she said.

At one point in the interview, according to the transcript, Handley told the woman, “If an opinion were anything, I think, is it fair to say in his defense that after you guys had consensual sex the night before, you stayed the night at his house, you’re laying in his bed with him, he’s probably thinking this is okay?”

The accuser agrees that’s “totally fair.” She then agreed that she didn’t say no “because (she) just wanted to get it over with and be done with it.”

Eventually, the accuser largely agreed to drop the allegations criminally, and the deputies said they wouldn’t charge her for making a false report.

“So you should feel good about yourself right now because, for lack of a better term, s—it happens, okay,” Handley said, according to the transcript. He told her to take this is as a “learning experience.” “Fair enough? And you came forward with it. What the hell. Live and learn.”

Star-Tribune staff writer Shane Sanderson contributed to this report.

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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