Benton County sheriff deputies on Monday arrested a man who, as a volunteer firefighter with the Monroe fire department, allegedly sexually abused a girl participating in its junior firefighter program.
Jose Carlos Villa-Garcia, 30, faces one count of second-degree sexual abuse and two counts of third-degree sexual abuse, according to an indictment filed in May in Circuit Court. The alleged abuse happened between January and May 2016 when the victim was 15 years old, the indictment states.
Villa-Garcia appeared in Circuit Court on Tuesday via video conferencing from the Benton County Jail. His attorney, Forrest Reid, entered not guilty pleas to the charges on his behalf.
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Jordan requested bond be imposed in the case. Reid asked that Villa-Garcia be released on his own recognizance, meaning he wouldn’t have to post security to be released and would only owe the court bond money if he failed to appear at a court hearing.
Judge Locke Williams decided to conditionally release Villa-Garcia, meaning he wouldn’t have to pay to be released from jail and must follow all conditions set by the court. Villa-Garcia could be rearrested if he violates a condition of his release, which include no contact with the victim and not to have unsupervised contact with underage girls.
The jail roster showed Villa-Garcia was released from custody Tuesday afternoon.
The sheriff’s office began investigating Villa-Garcia in May 2016 after a mandatory reporter disclosed the alleged abuse, said Sgt. Chris Duffitt. At that time, deputies arrested Villa-Garcia for third-degree sexual abuse, third-degree attempted rape and first-degree official misconduct, Duffitt said. However, Villa-Garcia was released from custody the following day when prosecutors declined to file charges, he said.
Detectives continued looking into the alleged abuse and conducting interviews, Duffitt said. In May 2017, a grand jury indicted Villa-Garcia. A warrant was issued then for his arrest, but law enforcement officers had been unable to locate Villa-Garcia until Monday, Duffitt said. Villa-Garcia was arrested at his home.
At this time, detectives do not believe there are additional victims in the case, Duffitt said.
“But we’re always looking for further evidence or victims in a case like this if that exists,” he said.
Villa-Garcia’s next court hearing is set for a status check on Jan. 9.
A Portland-based law firm filed a lawsuit Friday against the Monroe Rural Fire Protection District, alleging the agency failed to properly train and supervise a volunteer in charge of the junior firefighter program, allowing him to groom a minor female over time and eventually sexually assault her a number of times.
In the lawsuit, the volunteer is identified as Carlos Garcia. It was not immediately clear why that name differed from the defendant’s name in the indictment. The Sheriff's Office confirmed Villa-Garcia was a volunteer firefighter in Monroe at the time of his first arrest in May 2016.
The lawsuit seeks $3.5 million in damages from the department. The law firm said that the "sexual molestation and abuse" cited in the lawsuit "constituted harmful and offensive touching of the plaintiff, to which plaintiff did not and could not consent.”
When contacted Friday, Monroe Fire Chief Rick Smith said the department did have an internal investigation last year involving a volunteer named Carlos Garcia. Smith added that Carlos Garcia was no longer with the department, but declined to elaborate on the outcome of the internal investigation.
A Monroe School District representative confirmed a man named Carlos Garcia was a paid assistant wrestling coach for the district in the 2015-16 school year, but said he is no longer with the district. He also apparently served as an unpaid assistant coach with Monroe High School as early as the 2011-12 school year, according to a team photo on the district’s website.