Grand Jury Returns Superseding Indictment In Civil Rights Case Involving Former Wasatch County Deputy Sheriff
SALT LAKE CITY – A federal grand jury returned a five-count superseding indictment Wednesday evening charging Christopher Stein Epperson, age 34, of Heber City, Utah, with deprivation of rights under color of law for alleged sexual misconduct in his capacity as a Wasatch County Deputy Sheriff assigned to the county’s Department of Corrections as a jail guard.
Epperson was initially charged in a three-count indictment returned in June. The new indictment includes two additional acts of sexual misconduct alleged to have taken place in mid-December 2009 and mid-January 2010. (The new charges are in counts three and five of the superseding indictment.)
Epperson will be arraigned on the new charges Feb. 9, 2012, at 10:30 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Nuffer.
Three counts of the new indictment (counts one, four, and five) charge Epperson with sexually assaulting an individual by committing or attempting to commit aggravated sexual abuse, depriving the victim of civil rights protections under the Constitution and laws of the United States. These counts, charged as deprivation of rights under color of law, carry a potential penalty of any term of years up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine per count.
Epperson also is charged in two counts (counts two and three) with sexually assaulting the victim. These counts, also charged as deprivation of rights under color of law, carry a potential penalty of up to a year in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Indictments are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.
The charges follow an investigation by the Utah Department of Public Safety and the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City.
Special Note: What does “color of law” mean? Law enforcement officers and other officials like judges, prosecutors, and security guards have been given broad power by local, state, and federal government agencies—authority they must have to enforce the law and ensure justice in our country. These powers include the authority to detain and arrest suspects, to search and seize property, to bring criminal charges, to make rulings in court, and to use deadly force in certain situations. Preventing abuse of this authority, however, is equally necessary. It is a federal crime for anyone acting under “color of law” to willfully deprive or conspire to deprive a person of a right protected by the Constitution or U.S. law. “Color of law” simply means that the person is using lawful authority given to him or her by a local, state, or federal government agency. The FBI is the lead agency for investigating color of law cases.