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"He would do everything when his partner was asleep," Flores-Brown recalls. "He said I could come up there and sit on his lap. He said he wanted to take me to a motel and have sex with me. He wanted me to tell him 'some X-rated bedtime stories.' I tried to ignore him. Then he'd get angry and tell us he was going to take us to the desert and shoot us. I started to get really scared."
After she arrived at a detention center in Bisbee, Arizona, Flores-Brown filed a complaint about her treatment. Officers there regarded her harassment claims as a civil matter, but they did take photos of her arms, badly swollen from the tight shackles, and forwarded them to EI management. According to Darbyshire, Almendarez was instructed to bring the van to headquarters in Commerce City, a summons that only made him more belligerent toward her.
"He got really angry," Darbyshire says. "He was talking to [the other driver], saying he should have taken us out in the desert and shot us, that we were probably federal agents that had been planted on the van. He was paranoid. His partner would just shake his head and laugh at him."
Darbyshire says she awoke several hours later to find the van pulling into a rest stop along I-25. She is uncertain of the location, other than that it was "south of Pueblo." Almendarez took the male prisoners to the bathroom first and then returned to escort her to the women's room .
Once inside, she says, Almendarez told her, "You're fixing to have sex with me."
"I told him, 'No, I'm not,'" Darbyshire says. "He said, 'Well, you're going to give me a blow job.' I told him he was a pig.
"He took off my belly chain and my cuffs. He made me take my shirt and bra off. He told me to put my feet up on the door, to keep anyone from coming in, and then he straddled me. He put his left foot on my right hand, unzipped his pants and told me to play with myself. He couldn't do much, he's so heavy, but he jerked off on me. Then he got paper towels and told me to wipe off. I started scrubbing myself."
When the van arrived in Commerce City, Darbyshire asked to see EI director Ray Pezolt. She says Pezolt told her that Almendarez would be driving her to Steamboat Springs and that "whatever you tell us, we're going to tell him." Consequently, she says, she didn't report the full details of the assault until she was turned over to Routt County deputies.
The van developed mechanical failure on the way, however, and Almendarez was assigned to another van headed for Kansas. James Saunders, a Denver prisoner who was on that trip, recalls Almendarez complaining to his partner about Darbyshire later that day during a stop at a Wal-Mart in eastern Colorado.
"They thought we were all asleep," Saunders says. "He said, 'I should have taken the bitch out in the field and raped her and blew her fucking brains out.' That was the part that caught my attention."
After Saunders got his legal troubles straightened out in Kansas, he returned to Denver and reported the conversation to Pezolt. "I'm prepared to testify about it," he says. "I think this guy was very unprofessional."
EI's Cure says his people have been questioned by several law-enforcement agencies about the matter, but no one has yet been able to locate the rest stop Darbyshire described, much less establish evidence of an assault. A Pueblo County Sheriff's Office commander confirms that his department has closed its investigation after determining the alleged attack did not occur in their jurisdiction.
"I wouldn't trust these guys if they told me the sky was blue," Cure says. "That's not saying it did not happen. But you get one inmate who collaborates with the rest -- she can't tell where it occurred. She doesn't know what state it was in. I can tell you this much. The federal people just dropped it. They said there was nothing there. Routt County has to continue [to investigate] because of her continual bitching. Personally, I don't think it occurred. Our officer swears he never touched her."
Almendarez could not be reached for comment. Cure says Almendarez was a "hard worker" who left the company after two years for personal reasons. "I didn't have any trouble with him," he says. "He could go back to work for us today if he wanted to."
Routt County has stopped using EI's ser-vices during the investigation, but the company has weathered similar allegations before. In fact, right now it's fighting a federal lawsuit filed by a Colorado prisoner, Rosse McLeod, who claims she was fed one meal a day and deprived of sleep and showers during a six-day trip in 1998. McLeod says she was left shackled with unsupervised male prisoners, one of whom exposed himself to her and assaulted another prisoner who tried to intervene.
"We get tons of complaints," Cure sighs. "We get sued because the guy said he wanted McDonald's instead of Burger King, or we didn't provide the right kind of toilet paper, or whatever. We answer them and go about our business. Nobody has ever collected anything from us."