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SALT LAKE CITY — A former Wasatch County jailer pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday to charges that he sexually assaulted a female inmate.
Christopher Stein Epperson, 33, faces three counts of deprivation of rights under color of law. Color of law means that the person is using lawful authority bestowed by a local, state, or federal government agency.
The Heber City man was a Wasatch County deputy sheriff assigned to the Utah Department of Corrections as a jail guard when the alleged incidents occurred.
Epperson sexually assaulted the woman three times in December 2009, according to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court. Because federal prosecutors allege two of the incidents involved aggravated circumstances, he faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Judge Paul M. Warner ordered Epperson to remain in custody pending a detention hearing next Monday. The judge told the U.S. marshals to separate Epperson from the Davis County Jail's general population because of his work in law enforcement. "I want that to happen for his safety," Warner said.
Epperson's wife and mother sobbed as U.S. marshals led him away in handcuffs and shackles.
"We know you didn't do it," his mother told him.
Epperson's attorney, Randy Spencer, had no comment after the hearing.
The alleged victim, Julie Hoggan, filed a civil lawsuit against Epperson, Wasatch County and the sheriff's office in federal court in December 2010. Hoggan was incarcerated from September 2009 to April 2010 on prescription drug fraud charges.
Her suit contends Epperson began making inappropriate comments to her in November 2009. In December of that year, he ordered her to bare her breasts so he could photograph them, according to the lawsuit, and also showed her photos of his genitalia.
Hoggan, 34, alleges Epperson backed her into a corner where he groped her and forced her to fondle him. On one occasion, the suit claims, he attempted to forcibly sodomize her.
Epperson denied the allegations in a response to the civil lawsuit.
The suit also contends other guards saw or knew about the alleged incidents, and that the county and the sheriff's office failed to adequately train and supervise its officers in the jail.