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SALT LAKE CITY — A former Duchesne County sheriff's deputy is firing back against a woman who has accused him of fondling her during a 2011 traffic stop.
Derek Dalton is currently a Saratoga Springs police officer. He filed a counterclaim this week against Veronica Wopsock in U.S. District Court that describes her civil rights lawsuit against him as "meritless, unfounded and outrageous."
Dalton also lists the Ute Indian Tribe, the tribe's governing Business Committee and its six members as defendants. It accuses Wopsock and tribal officials of engaging in defamation, civil conspiracy, abuse of process, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He also contends that tribal officials exceeded their authority by "conspiring with and assisting Wopsock" and other tribal members in their efforts to thwart Duchesne County from arresting and prosecuting tribal members when it has jurisdiction to do so.
Wopsock filed her federal lawsuit in June, alleging that Dalton took "indecent sexual liberties" with her during a Sept. 4, 2011, traffic stop north of Roosevelt while he was working for the Duchesne County Sheriff's Office. The suit claims Dalton groped Wopsock's breasts and genitals.
"I knew from day one that it was wrong; that it was false," Duchesne County Sheriff Travis Mitchell said Friday.
"The evidence has shown that it was a totally fabricated allegation," Mitchell added.
That evidence includes video of the traffic stop that was recorded by the camera in Dalton's patrol vehicle. The video was released this week to the KSL-TV in response to a June 22 public records request.
I knew from day one that it was wrong, that it was false. I've never had any question that it was and the evidence has shown that it was a totally fabricated allegation.
–- Sheriff Travis Mitchell
In the video, which runs without audio for much of its 40 minutes, Wopsock is seen walking up behind Dalton as he begins to search her car after arresting a passenger who was a convicted felon with an outstanding warrant, and finding a syringe inside the vehicle.
As Wopsock approaches, Dalton turns and appears to speak to the woman, who returns to the back of the car. She can be seen emptying the contents of her pockets onto the lid of the trunk.
With that done, Dalton and Wopsock appear to talk once more and Wopsock puts her hands out to her sides as the deputy quickly pats the front and back pockets of her shorts in a cursory check for weapons. Dalton then returns to the car to continue his search.
The video shows that at least two children were in the car when it was stopped. Wopsock can be seen helping one child out of the car before Dalton begins his search.
At no time does the video show Dalton touching Wopsock above the waist. Nor does he appear to touch her genitals.
But attorney Jeremy Patterson, whose law firm serves as general counsel for the Ute Indian Tribe, said there are portions of the video where both Dalton and Wopsock are off camera. The alleged assault could have happened then, he said.
Tribal attorneys also question why the dashcam video was not provided to the attorney who represented Wopsock in her traffic case when it was requested as part of the discovery process.
"That was witholding evidence and it's inexplicible," said tribal attorney Frances Bassett.
Duchesne County Attorney Stephen Foote said Wopsock's attorney in the traffic case was promised a copy of the video by a deputy prosecutor. But Wopsock accepted a plea offer before the video was turned over, which is why it was never provided to the defense.
The video was provided to the Utah Attorney General's Office in late June after it launched an investigation at the request of the county into Wopsock's allegations. State investigators tried to contact Wopsock repeatedly to set up an interview, but one of her attorneys told them no interview would be granted.
"We made the decision for her — for legal strategy reasons — not to have her talk with them," said tribal attorney Jeff Rasmussen, who works for the same law firm as Patterson and Bassett.
That was withholding evidence and it's inexplicable.
–- Frances Bassett, tribal attorney
KSL-TV filed a public records request seeking a copy of the Attorney General's investigative report. It was told the final report is still awaiting approval from the office's chief of law enforcement, so it could not be released.
But Foote said Friday that state investigators deemed Wopsock's allegations "unfounded."
"They found that there was no wrongdoing by the officer and we stand by that," he said. "Had it gone the other way, I think that the officer would have been charged."
Wopsock is not interested in seeing Dalton face criminal charges, according to Preston Stieff, the Salt Lake City attorney who filed the federal lawsuit on her behalf.
"She doesn't have any particular desire to do that," Stieff said back in June. "She sought the relief she wants to obtain through this lawsuit."
On Friday, Stieff confirmed that his client still intends to move ahead with the $1 million suit.
Both Foote and Mitchell believe the timing of the lawsuit against Dalton shows that the Ute Tribe is trying intimidate the county into softening its position in a long-running dispute over law enforcement jurisdiction in the Uintah Basin.
On May 21, Dalton and Duchesne County Justice Court Judge Clair Poulson asked a federal judge to prevent the tribe and its members from suing county officials in Ute Tribal Court. Wopsock filed her lawsuit one month later.
"Some of the communications we had received (from tribal leaders) — I considered them threats — said that they were going to file actions against us in court over possible civil rights violations," Mitchell said. "I had no idea it would come in the form of a fabricated (allegation)."
Tribal officials have long claimed their members are singled out by Mitchell's deputies for harassment. They also claim that deputies regularly try to enforce the law on tribal lands where they have no jurisdiction.
The sheriff, however, continues to maintain that his office has received no formal complaint from a tribal member alleging misconduct by his deputies. The allegations against Dalton have had a devastating impact of the former deputy and his family, Mitchell said, and have prompted the sheriff to issue his staff a warning.
"I've told them they need to be extra cautious when dealing with tribal member," Mitchell said, "By the same token we wouldn't want them to treat tribal members any differently than they would anybody else, but (the deputies) need to be careful and protect themselves."