Affidavit reveals illicit behavior at county jail

Sex, drugs and official misconduct

Sex, drugs, perjury and official misconduct: it could be the making of a script for a late-night movie, but it isn’t. These are the elements of a drama that apparently played itself out over the course of a year at the Gunnison County Detention Center.



It’s a story with five main characters, including an inmate at the jail, his wife and three sheriff’s deputies who allegedly found themselves blurring—and eventually blacking out—the line between professional and personal relationships.
An affidavit in support of the arrest warrants issued for the five people was unsealed by Gunnison County Judge Ben Eden on Tuesday, September 22. In the affidavit, Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) agent Jack Haynes relates the results of interviews and investigations and paints a picture of wild times at the Gunnison County Detention Center.
The CBI was first asked to conduct an investigation into possible illegal activity at the jail in December of last year, and nine months later the result of their investigation was revealed.
Captain Michelle Zadra, who has been with the Sheriff’s department nearly 20 years, and  Sergeant Melissa Rogers, a shift supervisor at the jail, were arrested on Wednesday, September 2 on suspicion of first-degree perjury, conspiracy to commit perjury, first-degree official misconduct and false reporting to authorities. Three others were arrested in the same operation.
The five were arraigned in Gunnison County court on Tuesday, September 22, and status conferences were set for the first part of October. See story page 13.
According to the affidavit, the trouble apparently sprung up around inmate Joseph Stromayer, who has a “lengthy criminal history.” He was checked into the Gunnison Detention Center in January 2008 on charges of domestic violence and criminal mischief that carried a sentence of more than a year.
A month after Stromayer’s arrival at the jail, Tawnya Sponable was hired as a sheriff’s deputy at the detention center. Stromayer and Sponable knew one another and they soon became “very close friends,” the affidavit says.
But theirs wasn’t the only budding relationship at the jail. Sgt. Rogers also allegedly took an interest in Stromayer and rumors began to circulate through the jail that the sergeant was taking excessive liberties with Stromayer behind closed doors.
According to the affidavit, Sponable said she thought Rogers was “very flirtatious with Stromayer,” adding that working in a small jail, with 10 employees, she had heard that Rogers had exposed herself to Stromayer.
Although the allegations aren’t confirmed in the affidavit, it does say that after starting the relationship with Rogers, Stromayer learned she was having a sexual relationship with a Detention Center employee and in March 2008, that employee was assaulted by Stromayer.
The assault landed Stromayer in the maximum security cell at the jail and deprived him from interaction with the other inmates, until September when he was allowed into the recreation yard with minimum security inmates. After entering the yard, he assaulted another inmate, Brian Girard, breaking the man’s nose.
According to the affidavit, shortly after the assault incident, Rachel Stromayer, Joseph’s now ex-wife, called another inmate at the jail and asked him to pass on a message for her: if Girard pressed charges against Stromayer, Girard would be killed. She also contacted a cellmate of Girard’s, who was instructed to tell the officers that Girard threw a basketball at Stromayer, touching off the fight.
But while in maximum security, Stromayer wasn’t deprived of all human contact. In fact, Sponable and Rogers both continued their contact with him and Rogers even allegedly entered the prisoner’s cell and closed the door behind her.
During questioning by investigators, Zadra said she was concerned about the relationship between Rogers and Stromayer and while monitoring phone calls, she heard Stromayer say he had had sex with Rogers. He said he could prove it by describing tattoos and piercings in intimate places on Rogers’ body.
Although proof of the act wasn’t included in the affidavit, there were other details of a sexual relationship between the two that came out in interviews.
Sponable said she had heard from Stromayer and Stromayer’s ex-wife Rachel that Rogers had shown her breasts to him. Sponable also allegedly heard from Rachel Stromayer that Rogers had given the prisoner oral sex while at the jail.
But after Stromayer attacked Girard in the recreation yard, he was sent to jail in Park County in September 2008 and his relationship with Rogers seemed to have tailed off, according to the affidavit.
But Rogers wasn’t done growing close to inmates at the jail.
In March of this year, Law Enforcement Crime Victim assistant coordinator for Gunnison County Connie Carter-Smith said she witnessed a “gesture of familiarity” between an inmate and Rogers after the inmate left the sergeant’s office, where he was alone talking on the phone. She felt the contact was inappropriate for the inmate and jailer. Smith reported the contact to the Sheriff’s Office records clerk. The inmate was not Stromayer.
At one point while Stromayer was still at the Gunnison jail, Rogers confronted him, believing she was the subject of a phone conversation she had been listening in on, the affidavit says. Then, in October 2008, at a hearing, Stromayer publicly accused Rogers of exposing herself to him and their relationship apparently came to an end.
While guards at the Park County jail in Fairplay were unpacking Stromayer’s belongings, they found three pornographic magazines and a CD containing pornography, as well as a handwritten list containing the locations and descriptions of Rogers’ tattoos and piercings.
After finding the contraband, Sheriff Rick Murdie says it was clear that there was a problem with things coming into the jail.
“We told the CBI we’ve got a problem with stuff coming into the jail and it would have been extremely negligent to do the investigation ourselves,” Murdie says.
“As they got into the Vicodin [investigation that was being conducted by the Gunnison Police Department] and into the contraband, they kind of meshed and it all started coming together and spider webbed to the other people,” he said.
The list of Rogers’ piercings had been provided to Stromayer by Sponable, who had been friends with Rogers. Stromayer was using the intimate knowledge of Rogers’ body art as proof to authorities that the two had sex. But he hadn’t used it.
When Rogers was asked in a December 2008 interview if she had a sexual relationship or if she had ever exposed herself to Stromayer she denied the allegations. She said she was very strict and very professional and didn’t “bend the rules.” She told investigators that she “wouldn’t throw her career or schooling away for someone like Stromayer.”
While Stromayer and Rogers moved apart during his stay in Park County, Stromayer’s relationship with Sponable heated up, with the two conversing over the phone almost immediately after he was transferred.
Sponable had told Park County authorities that she needed to talk to Stromayer about upcoming court cases. She later told investigators “I just… I wanted to talk to him and felt like, he was a friend of mine, I’ve known him and I didn’t feel he was a threat anymore because he was out of our jail.”
Park County advised the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office that there were some “suspicious and questionable” phone calls between Stromayer and Sponable, which ultimately resulted in charges of official misconduct and conspiracy to introduce contraband.
Although Sponable first tried to throw the CBI off her trail with false information about her phone number, the affidavit includes outlines of phone conversations between the two during which they discussed sexually explicit letters being sent between them, his fathering of a juvenile’s child (which was another court case), his sexual relationship with Rogers and “stuff.”
The “stuff” isn’t identified in the affidavit, but it opens a new window into the alleged activities at the jail.
According to the affidavit, Sponable told another inmate in November 2008 that she had sex with Stromayer and that the other detention officers were in the kitchen while this occurred. Sponable also admitted to the inmate that she had provided Stromayer with cocaine.
In one phone conversation described in the affidavit, Sponable and Stromayer talked about getting another inmate at the Detention Center “stuff.” “You know, the stuff I used to give you,” she said.
Allegations of drug use and introducing contraband like drugs into the jail appears several times in the affidavit and the Gunnison Police Department was called in August 2008 to investigate 40 Vicodin pills that were discovered missing from several inmates’ prescription bottles.
Although Sponable passed a urine analysis test in August 2008, Rachel Stromayer told investigators that she saw Sponable use cocaine in December 2008 and that Sponable told Rachel she had taken cocaine to the jail for Stromayer.
Another inmate told investigators that she had seen Sponable purchase Vicodin illicitly multiple times, the affidavit says.
Throughout Stromayer’s time at the Detention Center, his phone conversations were another source of illegal activity, but not on Stromayer’s part. Instead, Rogers and Captain Michelle Zadra would sometimes listen to the conversations, some of which were protected by attorney-client privilege, according to the court documents.
Captain Zadra had told investigators repeatedly that she was the only person with the access code to the telephone monitoring system and that she had shown Rogers how to access the system only once.
Rogers told investigators she often went into the captain’s office to get the key ring to monitor phone calls, the affidavit says. But she said she had not logged in when Zadra wasn’t present.
Rogers told investigators, “I only went down there with Capt. Zadra and only in her presence did I listen to phone calls.”
However, investigations revealed that between February 2008 and October 2008, Stromayer’s phone calls to his attorney had been queried 37 times.
Records from the phone monitoring system show that while Zadra was on vacation in June, 12 inmate calls were monitored, the affidavit says.
In the affidavit, Deputy District Attorney Shannon Chambers asked Zadra if she had listened to inmate’s phone calls and she said “no.”Zadra also told investigators that she didn’t know if a complaint had been filed about Rogers’ listening to Stromayer’s phone calls, when she was the person the complaint was filed with.
During an interview with CBI investigators, Rogers said of her relationship with the inmates, “I don’t think that just because I’m in blue and they’re in orange that makes me any better than them. That just means that they got caught.”
Now Rogers and the others might be joining those in orange on the other side of law enforcement.

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