BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - Willacy County Justice of the Peace Eliseo "Cheyo" Barnhart, who later became Willacy County Judge, assaulted and sexually groped an employee, tried to buy her silence with $7,000, then conspired with Raymondville Police Chief Uvaldo Zamora to retaliate against her "with trumped up charges of extortion, theft, and conspiracy," the woman claims in Federal Court.
Andrea Sias Espinosa says she had to return to the office after work hours on Feb. 3, 2006 because she had left her purse behind. She claims Justice Barnhart let her in, locked the door, then put his hands under her clothes, fondled her and exposed his "dirty beige penis" to her. She says she had to fight him off as he groped and sexually manhandled her.
"After the assault, Mrs. Espinosa made several attempts with the Raymondville police department to file a complaint against Judge Barnhart for sexual assault, exposure and harassment," the complaint states. She says a detective finally took a statement from her on March 21, 2006.
The complaint continues: "In February of 2006, as Mrs. Espinosa waited to pick up her kids at Pittman Elementary School, Judge Barnhart unexpectedly approached her and said, 'I have seven thousand dollars in my pocket, do you want it or not? Take it and leave me alone.' Mrs. Espinosa told Judge Barnhart she did not want his money and refused to shake his hand as he requested. She got into her vehicle with her children and drove off."
She claims that Barnhart then conspired with the Raymondville Police Department to defame and arrest her on false charges of trying to blackmail Barnhart for the sexual assault: "Judge Barnhart soon thereafter had meetings with his longtime friend Chief of Police Uvaldo Zamora and Police Detective Armin Martinez of the Raymondville Police Department to devise, scheme, plan, fabricate, manufacture, provide false testimony and evidence, and execute a means of retaliation against the Plaintiffs for Mrs. Espinosa's sexual harassment claims against him".
Mrs. Espinosa was indicted on false charges of blackmail, extortion, theft, and conspiracy, but the charges were dismissed, she says.
Espinosa and her husband demand punitive damages for assault, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, distress, costs of medical treatment, and civil rights violations. She is represented by Francisco Rodriguez of McAllen.
Barnhart was a justice of the peace when these incidents began, and became county judge during the course of the proceedings, according to the complaint. A Texas county judge is analogous to being chairman of a board of supervisors.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.