Consensual or assault? Arguments heard in sex case involving Stanislaus County deputy, inmate

While the Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy accused of engaging in sexual acts with an inmate hasn’t been formally charged, attorneys already have argued in court about whether the contact was consensual.

The inmate’s attorney last week filed a motion for his client to be released on her own recognizance, claiming she is not safe in the Stanislaus County jail due to “repeated sexual assaults, subsequent stigmatization, and failure to act by the Sheriff’s Office.”

During the bail review hearing in Stanislaus Superior Court on Friday, Deputy District Attorney Beth De Jong accused Chief Deputy Public Defender Reed Wagner of grossly mischaracterizing facts in his motion, while he accused her of victim shaming.

Custodial deputy Johnathan McClure was arrested Aug. 21 on suspicion engaging in “sexual activity with a consenting adult who is confined in a detention facility.” Under federal case law, there is a presumption that sex with an inmate is not consensual, so McClure will have the burden to prove that it was.

Wagner said in his motion that McClure used his position of power to “encourage, manipulate and force a sexual relationship” with his client, Vanessa Montero.

The Bee’s policy is to withhold the names of alleged sexual assault victims unless they agree to be identified. Montero, through her attorney, agreed to her name being used in this story.

Wagner argued that Montero suffered a violation of her due process rights under the 14th Amendment, which prohibits all punishment of pretrial detainees. Wagner also said the Prison Rape Elimination Act was violated when Montero was placed in administrative segregation following the Aug. 12 discovery of the sexual contact. He said Montero now has major restrictions on her rights and privileges within the jail, “ further punishing her for being victimized.”

“When the Sheriff fails to protect an individual in their custody from harm, public trust in justice is shaken,” Wagner wrote in his motion. “When a Sheriff’s Deputy is the perpetrator of the harm, justice is shattered.”

De Jong argued that Montero is a dangerous person with a 2019 conviction for an armed robbery of a Rite Aid drugstore. Montero’s current charges stem from allegations that she stalked a woman, broke into her home, vandalized her property and attacked her dogs, killing one of them. De Jong said Montero also has a history of failing to appear at her court hearings.

The prosecutor said that the relationship between Montero and McClure was consensual and that the two exchanged over 18,000 text messages on a phone McClure allegedly provided Montero. She said they both exchanged sexually explicit pictures and videos and Montero was the first to say “I love you” in those text messages.

Wagner and De Jong were both present when Montero was interviewed by a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office detective.

He used he position as a trustee

The alleged sexual contact began shortly after Montero was booked in January. But McClure allegedly first began making sexually suggestive comments to her when she was incarcerated in 2019.

Inappropriate touching allegedly began in February when Montero became a trusty, an inmate who has special privileges including doing work outside her cell, like cleaning.

De Jong said jail surveillance video captured what was likely the first kiss between Montero and McClure on Feb. 12, with “Montero turning and smiling giddily.”

According to Wagner’s motion, McClure allegedly first had sexual intercourse with Montero in April when he used her position as a trusty to take her into a private interview room.

After that, McClure allegedly would regularly wake Montero to have her clean jail bathrooms late at night, then engage in sexual acts with her, according to the motion. He also entered her cell on multiple occasions.

The motion describes one incident in which McClure allegedly used force with Montero. Montero told McClure “no” when he attempted to perform oral copulation on her, according to the motion. She closed her legs and he allegedly turned her over and proceeded to have sex with her.

“At no time did Ms. Montero state that force was used as to the vaginal intercourse,” De Jong wrote in her response to Wagner’s motion.

Wagner said in court that Montero told the detective she “stopped stopping” McClure. “That is not consent,” he said.

Public knowledge in the jail

Wagner alleges the “assaults were public knowledge” in the jail among inmates and jail staff alike, with several deputies referring to Montero as “Mrs. McClure.”

“It is clear that a number of deputies within the Sheriff’s Detention Center were either aware of this and turned a blind eye or offered their silent approval of Deputy McClure’s actions,” Wagner wrote in his motion.

In addition to the criminal investigation, McClure is the subject of an internal affairs investigation and is on paid administrative leave.

Asked whether additional deputies were on leave or under investigation for their alleged knowledge of the sexual acts between McClure and Montero, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman told The Bee, “This is an active ongoing investigation and we cannot provide any details.”

McClure, who could not be reached for comment, posted bond on a $50,000 bail the day of his arrest. Because he bailed out, the District Attorney’s Office did not need to file charges within 48 hours and instead has up to three years.

After the deputy was put on leave and barred from all Sheriff’s Office facilities, Montero tried calling McClure twice but he didn’t answer, De Jong said in court. McClure allegedly had a third party reach out to Montero’s family to pass along a message to her, De Jong said.

Nothing was done against Ms. Montero’s will,” De Jong said. “She may perhaps be a woman scorned.”

She told Judge Kellee C. Westbrook that Montero is a danger to the public and a flight risk and should remain in jail.

Westbrook said, “The allegations made are absolutely concerning regardless of whether it was consensual or not, due to the fact that the deputy was obviously in a position of extreme power in a custodial setting.”

But she said she would not comment further on an open case and had to consider Montero’s violent past, her current charges and the lengthy sentence she faces if convicted, and her history of failing to appear in court. For those reasons, she denied reducing Montero’s bail.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson told The Bee he expects his office will review and make a decision in McClure’s case this week.