Prisoner held in max security during killing probe

ORDWAY, Colo. (AP) — An imprisoned sex offender described as a person of interest in the death of a female corrections officer had been disciplined multiple times for sexual harassment of women employees at another Colorado prison where the victim previously worked, authorities said Wednesday.

Miguel Alonso Contreras-Perez, 33, has been transferred from Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, where the officer was killed, to a maximum-security prison while the death is investigated, authorities said.

Contreras-Perez had been serving 35 years to life at the medium-security Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility when Sgt. Mary K. Ricard, 55, died Monday in what prison officials said was an assault involving an inmate in the kitchen of the prison 45 miles east of Pueblo.

Sgt. Lori Gann was critically wounded in the assault.

Alison Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, declined to release details about how Ricard was killed or the circumstances involved. However Crowley County Coroner Karen Tomky issued a written statement late Wednesday saying Ricard died of a stab wound to the neck.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the state Inspector General’s Office are investigating.

Contreras-Perez pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexual assault in El Paso County in Colorado in 2004 in a case involving a 14-year-old girl and was sentenced to 35 years to life in prison, court records show. He began serving his sentence at the Buena Vista Correctional Facility in 2004 and was transferred to the Arkansas Valley facility last year.

Ricard began working at the Buena Vista facility in 2003. She transferred to Arkansas Valley in 2007.

While Contreras-Perez was at Buena Vista, he violated the Department of Corrections’ internal rules for thefts, fighting and sexual harassment, Morgan said. He was twice disciplined for theft and was disciplined once for fighting with another inmate, she said.

He was transferred to Arkansas Valley after receiving five disciplinary actions for sexual harassment in May 2011, said Morgan, who didn’t speculate on why he was transferred.
“In a very short period of time, his behavior was repeatedly inappropriate, so there were multiple disciplinaries for that behavior,” she said. She didn’t disclose further details.
Each time, corrections officials disciplined Contreras-Perez by removing him from the general prison population for a short period. He received another disciplinary action at Arkansas Valley for theft.

Morgan said the state won’t release more details because an investigation is continuing. Crowley County District Attorney Rod Fouracre referred inquiries to the corrections department.

Prison policy allows inmate kitchen workers to use all implements, including knives, under staff supervision. Morgan hasn’t said whether Contreras-Perez worked in the kitchen.
Contreras-Perez enlisted in the Army in 2001 and served until March 2003. He was a private stationed at Fort Carson at the time he left the service and listed his hometown as Ogden, Utah.

Arkansas Valley has 324 staff members and had 999 inmates on Monday. The prison holds minimum, medium and high security inmates and has a capacity of 1,007.

All medium and high security prisons in Colorado remained on partial lockdown so staff could be sent to assist operations at Arkansas Valley.

Arkansas Valley Warden Steve Hartley had praise for Ricard.

“She wanted to make a difference. She was a great person; very dedicated. She was there on her day off,” Hartley told The Denver Post.

A funeral for Ricard was scheduled Saturday at Buena Vista. A public memorial service was planned 10 a.m. Monday at Crowley County High School.

Gann has worked at the prison since 2009.