Gabriel Castro

Castro

A judge on Thursday dismissed a case against a Santa Barbara County sheriff's jail deputy charged with sexually abusing a female inmate after the defendant's accuser died in a vehicle collision earlier this year. 

Superior Court Judge Pauline Maxwell approved a prosecution motion to dismiss the case against Gabriel Castro, 49, who was charged on Feb. 20, 2020, with one count each of sexual penetration by a foreign object and sexual activity in a detention facility between May 28, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017, according to records.

Supervising Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian said she filed the motion on Nov. 24 after learning Castro’s accuser, an unidentified Jane Doe, died in a vehicle collision on June 8. Castro initially pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 6, 2020. 

“Unfortunately, we needed the victim to testify at [the] jury trial,” Karapetian said. “We cannot prove the case without her testimony, therefore, we cannot proceed with the case.”

Castro is a senior custody deputy who was hired in 2002. He has been on unpaid administrative leave with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office since September 2018, according to spokeswoman Raquel Zick, who couldn't comment further because the internal investigation hasn't concluded. 

The internal investigation into Castro began in August 2018 following a report from an inmate that developed into two separate criminal investigations that occurred around the same time and involved intertwined witnesses.

Sheriff's investigator Sgt. Travis Henderson testified at the Feb. 17 preliminary hearing that the Jane Doe witness was reluctant to speak at first when he interviewed her at the Lassen County Jail, according to court records. 

"She was very hesitant to speak to us because she mentioned her fear of other custody personnel finding out she was talking to Jennifer Karapetian, and being really hesitant to talk about the stuff that happened," Henderson said.

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The witness did describe to Henderson several inappropriate instances where Castro touched her while she was in a privacy cell, which is located in an area of the jail where no cameras point, according to testimony. 

Michael D. Schwartz, Castro's attorney, said his client is innocent and the case should never have been filed to begin with. 

In a May 13 motion to dismiss, Schwartz cited the lack of any physical evidence, including no DNA, no recorded video camera footage and no corroborating information from 10 to 15 female witnesses interviewed by Henderson. 

Additionally, Schwartz said the Jane Doe witness changed her story several times over the course of five separate interviews. 

"Obviously, we did not want it dismissed based on a tragic set of circumstances, such as in the death of a witness," Schwartz said. "We are very happy that at least he doesn’t have to face distress and the risk of a trial for charges he was completely innocent of." 

Schwartz added Castro is exploring whether he wants to return to duty. 

Salvador Vargas, a jail discharge planner, is the defendant in the second investigation and still faces charges that include forcible oral copulation and sexual activity in a detention facility. He pleaded not guilty on March 19. 

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