Salvador Vargas | Credit: SBSO

Former Santa Barbara County Jail employee Salvador Vargas, 36, faces eight years in prison and lifetime sex offender registration after an investigation revealed he sexually assaulted several female inmates. On the eve of his trial, Vargas pleaded guilty to forcible oral copulation and sexual activity with an inmate, both felonies.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, between 2016 and 2018, Vargas took advantage of several inmates at the jail, where he was employed as a discharge planner. The women accused of him of assaulting them and said he would provide favors to those who engaged in sexual activity with him. 

In August 2017, prosecutors said, Vargas was transporting a female inmate on electronic monitoring, identified only as Jane Doe, from jail to a residential treatment facility. But before they reached their destination, Vargas parked his vehicle and forced Doe to orally copulate him.

“Jane Doe, terrified that the defendant would send her back to jail if she did not comply, eventually gave into his demands,” the DA’s Office said in a statement. “Although Jane Doe told a friend partial details of what occurred, she never reported the sexual assault to law enforcement as she was afraid of what further repercussions she would suffer.”

Gabriel Castro | Credit: SBSO

District Attorney Joyce Dudley said, “The prosecution team, led by Supervising Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian, then had the arduous task garnering the trust and support of the victim and other witnesses who were originally afraid to come forward.”

Jane Doe has since filed a federal lawsuit against Vargas, the county, and the Sheriff’s Office, claiming the assault was a violation of her civil rights. The case is pending. 

A custody deputy at the jail, Gabriel Castro, 48, was also accused of sexually assaulting inmates during the DA’s investigation, but criminal charges against him were ultimately dropped. Castro, the county, and the Sheriff’s Office, however, now face a separate lawsuit from one of Castro’s reported victims.

Castro was allegedly known among female inmates for his inappropriate conduct, including trading candy for sexual favors and demanding inmates expose their breasts in exchange for mail, according to the lawsuit. That case is also pending.

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