Casper Man Accused of Sexually Abusing Girl at Playground
A man who reportedly has the cognitive ability of a 12-year-old is accused of sexually touching a child at an apartment complex playground in Casper.
Jorge Zuniga-Aguilar, 40, is charged with one count each of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree and sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree. The charges carry a combined penalty of up to 35 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.
His attorney, Joseph Cole, appeared for a preliminary hearing in Natrona County Circuit Court on Thursday, where Judge Michael Patchen ordered proceedings suspended pending a competency evaluation. The preliminary hearing was reset for Tuesday.
Charging documents say on May 12, a Casper police officer responded to a report of a sex offense. A mother told the officer that her daughter had been touched by an unknown hispanic man at the apartment complex's playground.
The woman said her daughter had gone to the playground at about 7 p.m. While playing, the girl got dirt on her clothes, and a man she recognized but didn't know asked her to come over to him.
The girl approached the man, and he began brushing dirt off of her clothing. He then allegedly groped her over her clothes before sliding one hand up the leg of the child's shorts. Hen then allegedly told the girl that it was okay.
The investigating officer was able to identify the unknown man as Zuniga-Aguilar, and the victim reportedly identified Zuniga-Aguilar as the man who touched her.
With the help of another person living in the apartment complex who spoke Spanish, the officer spoke with Zuniga-Aguilar, who reportedly said he was at the park at about 7 p.m., but no one else was there. He reportedly denied that anything took place.
The officer was advised that Zuniga-Aguilar had a diminished mental capacity.
In a later interview with Zuniga-Aguilar at his residence, after Zuniga-Aguilar called authorities and said he wanted to speak with the officer again, Zuniga-Aguilar reportedly recanted his previous statement.
He reportedly went on to say that he had been sitting on a bench at the playground when a female sat down next to him. He described her as "sometimes putting her butt in his face," according to the affidavit.
The female, Zuniga-Aguilar said, stood up and sat on Zuniga-Aguilar's lap. She reportedly said, "You can touch me there is no problem." Zuniga-Aguilar thought it was inappropriate, according to court documents. He then allegedly told the officer that he touched the female on her pelvic area.
In a forensic interview at the Children's Advocacy Project, the alleged victim said that "a man was messing with her private parts without asking," according to charging papers.
Speaking about the day of the alleged abuse, the victim reportedly said Zuniga-Aguilar had two younger children with him, and he had brushed dirt off of her before.
She thought he was being nice, she told the forensic interviewer. On that day, she thought the man was going to brush dirt off of her, but instead he touched her private parts. She felt that it was wrong, and she was scared. The girl then ran home and told her mother.
Only she and Zuniga-Aguilar were in the park at the time of the alleged abuse, the victim said.
In a June 9 interview, Zuniga-Aguilar allegedly told a detective that the girl had touched him on his pubic area and said it was not a problem. He initially said it was an accident when his hand went inside the girl's clothing, according to the affidavit.
He went on to claim that the victim showed her private parts, and was "coming onto him," court documents say. Zuniga-Aguilar allegedly said he believed the girl was in love with him.
In court Thursday, Patchen said the Wyoming State Hospital would need to be contacted in order to determine whether Zuniga-Aguilar could be evaluated more quickly in Casper or at the hospital in Evanston.
Cole said Zuniga-Aguilar's mother, who was aware of the investigation, believed after some time that nothing would come of it, so she took her son on a trip to see family in Mexico. Zuniga-Aguilar was arrested as they crossed the border on their way back into the U.S.
Zuniga-Aguilar and his mother are legal U.S. residents, Cole said.
Zuniga-Aguilar remains in custody on $25,000 cash or surety bond.