Ex-Westminster police officer gets six years in prison for on-duty sexual assault
A former Westminster police officer who sexually assaulted a drunk woman in his custody was sentenced on a federal civil rights charge to six years in prison Monday in a decision the judge said he hoped would send a message to police officers that they are not above the law.
“I believe a slap-on-the-wrist sentence will be viewed among the small percentage of the law enforcement community who might be predisposed to engage in such assaults as a green light to do so,” U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez said during a nearly six-hour sentencing hearing. “…At least this federal judge will not be party to any such message. In fact, the sentence I impose will be the opposite. It will be a strong and forceful message.”
Curtis Arganbright, 43, had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor state charges in the 2017 sexual assault and was sentenced on those charges to 90 days in jail and four years probation. The separate federal civil rights case was brought only after the state case concluded.
Martinez called the 90-day state sentence “breathtaking in its miscarriage of justice.”
“As I understand it, the fury over that sentence was reported as far away as the United Kingdom…and was at least in part a motivating factor for the federal case,” Martinez said.
The federal case carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The sexual assault occurred in August 2017, after Arganbright responded to a call for a woman who stole medical items from a cabinet in her room at St. Anthony North Health Campus hospital. The hospital did not press charges, and Arganbright agreed to give the woman a ride home, because she had blood alcohol levels at three times the legal limit and could not drive herself.
During the drive, the on-duty police officer pulled over in a dark area along West 144th Avenue in Broomfield and sexually assaulted the woman. She was handcuffed at one point during the assault.
“I’d like to make it clear I am at fault,” Arganbright said before he was sentenced. “I was a police officer in a position of authority, and I was responsible for (the victim’s) care. Under those circumstances I know (she) could not consent…That said, I never used force and I never used violence. I never threatened her. The government’s version of how I attacked her is simply not true.”
Arganbright’s defense attorney, Nathan Chambers, attacked the credibility of the woman for about two hours during the day-long hearing — even though Arganbright had previously pleaded guilty and acknowledged the assault. Chambers suggested during Monday’s sentencing hearing that Arganbright’s conduct was not as severe as the woman described, and so the ex-officer should face a lighter sentence.
“There are two very different versions of what happened between (the victim) and Mr. Arganbright,” Chambers said. “…The level of punishment should be based on what actually happened.”
Chambers asked the judge to sentence Arganbright to probation. Prosecutor Bryan Fields asked for the maximum 10 years in prison, saying the sexual assault “undeniably occurred” and that Arganbright has shown no remorse. Despite Chambers’ attempts Monday to imply the encounter was consensual, Arganbright agreed when he pleaded guilty that it was not consensual.
“Even without resolution of all the other factual disputes in this case, this hard kernel of truth is horrifying,” Fields said. “It is every citizen’s worst nightmare.”
Arganbright apologized to the woman for the first time during Monday’s hearing. The victim, who spoke in court and was identified only by her initials, told the judge she did not lie about the assault.
“I have not been a perfect person,” she said. “I am just a human. And I am an alcoholic. Yes, I have lied, a lot. That is what addicts do, unfortunately…But I never have, and never will, lie to cause harm to another human being, and I did not lie about the facts of this assault…None of these facts or character defects made what this man did to me that night OK.”
Martinez called the defense’s portrayal of the victim as an attempt at a “full-throated character assassination,” and said he was “truly surprised” by the intensity of the approach.
“Unfortunately, to me this is another reminder of what victims of sexual assault frequently face when they have the courage to come forward and report the assault,” Martinez said. “This is wrong and it must stop.”
Arganbright was ordered to report to prison on March 29, a date set eight weeks out because Arganbright is still recovering from a near-deadly case of COVID-19 and may require special medical care.
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