Lawyers File 7 Federal Lawsuits, Allege Riverside County Scheme Offered ‘Hush Money’ to Incarcerated Sexually Abused by Deputy

By The Vanguard Staff

RIVERSIDE, CA – Riverside County offered incarcerated women thousands of dollars in hush money to keep quiet about sex abuse allegations at the county jail, according to lawsuits filed last week here.

The seven women claim they were sexually abused or exploited by a “former Riverside County correctional deputy,” according to a Riverside Press-Enterprise story, and are suing the county and Sheriff’s Department, claiming “they coordinated a scheme to prevent the women from coming forward and offered them ‘hush money.’”

Long Beach attorney Denisse O. Gastélum and Los Angeles attorney Christian Contreras have filed seven separate lawsuits for the alleged victims in U.S. District Court in Riverside, the Press-Enterprise wrote, naming former correctional Deputy Christian Heidecker, who was sentenced earlier this month to five years in prison.

The women said the 32-year-old Menifee resident “used his position of authority to sexually abuse and torment several females on house arrest (and) when Heidecker was caught, the Sheriff’s Department ‘concocted a plan to cover up the sexual abuse and to prevent the public from hearing the victims’ accounts,’” said the local paper.

Heidecker, according to the suits, confessed to sexual abuse on Sept. 1, 2023, then agreed to turn himself in on Sept. 15. giving the county and Sheriff’s Department 15 days to “try to silence the victims.”

The alleged plan, the pleadings claim, was “orchestrated and executed by sheriff’s Professional Standards Bureau correctional Sgt. Jessica Yelenich and Nicole R. Roggeveen, a contracted attorney for the county. Both Yelenich and Roggeveen also are named as defendants in the lawsuits,” wrote the Press-Enterprise.

Attorney Roggeveen and Sgt. Yelenich, the lawsuits assert, “created a list of Heidecker’s victims — woman after woman after woman, victim after victim after victim — and, one by one, they made sure they offered them hush money to keep them silent,” Gastelum said during a news conference Thursday outside U.S. District Court in Riverside, as reported by the Press-Enterprise.

One of Heideker’s victims signed a 10-page settlement release, and when she asked if she could show it to her mother, she was told no, so she signed the agreement and was given a $5,000 check. As a result, she waived her right to sue the county.

“I want to make sure that if there’s any other victims out there who the county of Riverside or the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department attempted to silence you, do not let them silence you,” Gastelum said, adding, “Your voice matters,” wrote the Press-Enterprise.

In February, former Deputy Heidecker pleaded guilty to 13 felony charges — four counts of extortion, four counts of dissuading a witness, four counts of being a peace officer soliciting a bribe and one count of being a detention officer engaging in a sex act with a consenting adult — after prosecutors said he threatened four women under house arrest with jail time unless they performed sex acts and sent him videos. Heidecker resigned after his arrest on Sept. 15,” said the Press-Enterprise.

Two of the women, who were wearing ankle monitors while out of jail, allege they were promised they could spend more time away from home or with their families in exchange for sex, said the lawsuits.

“Heidecker was assigned to the Riverside Alternative Sentencing Program at the Coordinated Custody Management Unit in Banning. Case managers have the authority to order participants to jail if they do not comply with the terms of their house arrest,” explained the Press-Enterprise.

“We’re here fighting for justice for these victims. We’re here filing these civil rights lawsuits because we know the county is not going to do anything about this. They’re going to sweep this under the rug and they’re not going to make any reforms or changes within this department, and it will happen again,” said the lawsuit’s lawyers last week.

The Press-Enterprise reported “Contreras and Gastelum also revealed Thursday that Heidecker allegedly produced a video with a sexually offensive title depicting correctional deputies in a Riverside County jail.”

“He was using his title and his uniform to make this video, and the most troubling aspect of this video is it shows they were doing it within the jails, in uniform, well before deputy Heidecker took advantage of these woman,” Contreras said.

One of Heidecker’s alleged victims, also a plaintiff identified only as “YV,” said county officials came to their home, and “made us feel afraid … that if we did not cooperate with signing their documents and whatever else we were asked to do, that we would be punished and taken back to jail. We are here today to ask for the justice that we deserve.”

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