Vernal man charged with multiple counts of child abuse

A Vernal man is facing numerous charges of child abuse accusing him of choking children, burning a child with a cigarette and other crimes.

A Vernal man is facing numerous charges of child abuse accusing him of choking children, burning a child with a cigarette and other crimes. (Billion Photos, Shutterstock)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

VERNAL — Multiple criminal charges have been filed this week against a Vernal man who is under investigation for ongoing child abuse.

Since Wednesday, Jeremiah Solomon John Espinoza, 48, has been charged in 8th District Court in three cases with aggravated assault and a total of six counts of aggravated child abuse, third-degree felonies, and child abuse involving injury, a class A misdemeanor.

He is accused of inflicting abuse on two young girls by such means as burning one with a cigarette, forcing one to eat her own vomit, putting people in a potentially lethal-type of chokehold, and attacking a woman after being arrested the first time for investigation of child abuse and having a protective order issued against him, according to charging documents.

The investigation began Sunday when a 13-year-old girl contacted police claiming that Espinoza "would grab her by the throat, he would threaten to slice and dice her sister and that her brother would get beat regularly," according to a police booking affidavit.

The girl told police that Espinoza on more than one occasion has put his hands on her neck and choked her. Investigators then interviewed other children and were given "consistent statements from these children corroborating the use of grabbing the kids by the throat by Jeremiah as a common form of punishment," the affidavit states.

The girl also said she and her siblings have been told to "keep it a secret," the affidavit states.

"She said the adults don't want the cops or officials involved. (She) said there is a rule ... that they don't want the state involved. (She) said she felt she needed to break this rule because she wanted her and her siblings to be safe," according to the affidavit.

When questioned by police, Espinoza denied abusing anyone, instead stating he had taught the children a move "called the ranger chokehold. Jeremiah stated this was a finishing move and likened it to the use of deadly force," the arrest report states.

Police also noted that Espinoza changed his story several times as he was being questioned.

When police went to the home, they found "blood stains on the wall and a broken wooden paddle used to spank the kids." Espinoza was subsequently arrested and charged with choking the 13-year-old girl and served with a protective order.

However, he was arrested again the next day, Monday, after becoming upset over being served with the protective order and grabbing his live-in girlfriend by her throat, according to charging documents. The woman told detectives that Espinoza "called the neck grab a ranger chokehold, which was reportedly a move learned by Jeremiah during his military service," according to another police affidavit. When questioned, Espinoza denied choking the woman, but admitted that the "ranger chokehold" is a "lethal tactic."

As detectives continued to interview the children on Tuesday, they said they learned of more abuse inflicted on an 8-year-old girl since the beginning of the year which, according to a police affidavit and charging documents, include:

  • Punching her in the nose with a closed fist.
  • Grabbing her by her throat.
  • Throwing a small plastic step stool at her.
  • Becoming upset with her for not finishing her food and placing habanero sauce on her uneaten food and making her eat it without utensils, and then making her eat her vomit after she threw up.
  • Burning her hand with a cigarette.

A judge on Thursday ordered Espinoza be held in the Uintah County Jail without the possibility of posting bail.

Child abuse resources:

  • Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org. The statewide child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).
  • The Utah Division of Child and Family Services offers counseling, teaches parenting skills and conflict resolution and can connect families with community resources. Its goal is to keep children with their family when it is "possible and safe." Visit dcfs.utah.gov/contact-us/ or call 801-538-4100.
  • The Christmas Box House acts as a temporary shelter for children and can provide them with new clothing and shoes, among other services. Call the Salt Lake office at 801-747-2201 or the Ogden office at 801-866-0350.

Domestic violence resources

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021 after many years of reporting for the Deseret News

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