Ouray Police Chief Suspended After Rape Allegations at His Home

City officials take action after public outcry

The city of Ouray has announced that Police Chief Jeff Wood has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings involving his stepson and two other suspects in an alleged rape case. The decision came after the Ouray County Plaindealer published a front-page story on Jan. 18, revealing that a 17-year-old girl was repeatedly raped by three men at Wood’s house in May 2023, while he was asleep upstairs. The city officials had known about the allegations since July 2023, when Wood informed them, but did not take any action until the story became public.

The Plaindealer’s story sparked outrage and controversy in the community, as well as national attention, after nearly all copies of the newspaper were stolen from the racks by a Ridgway man who claimed he wanted to protect the victim. The man, identified as Paul Choate, later returned the newspapers and apologized, but also criticized the Plaindealer for its previous coverage of other local issues. He was cited for theft by the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office.

Three suspects arrested in connection with the case

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been handling the investigation into the alleged rape since it was reported to the Sheriff’s Office in July 2023. The CBI arrested three suspects in December 2023: Gabriel Trujillo, 20, Ashton Whittington, 18, and Wood’s stepson, who was a minor at the time of the incident. The Plaindealer identified Wood’s stepson as Nathan Dieffenderffer, who is now 18. The three suspects are facing charges of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, sexual assault with force, and sexual assault on a child.

According to the court records, the victim told investigators that she was invited to a party at Wood’s house by Dieffenderffer, who was her friend. She said she drank alcohol and passed out in a bedroom, but woke up to find Dieffenderffer raping her. She said she tried to scream and fight back, but he restrained her and continued to assault her, while the other two suspects watched and laughed. She said Trujillo also joined in the attack, and that she was raped multiple times on the bathroom floor. She said she lost consciousness several times during the ordeal, and that she felt pain and bleeding afterwards.

Ouray Police Chief Suspended

The victim said she did not report the incident right away because she was afraid and ashamed, and that she hoped it was a bad dream. She said she confided in a friend, who encouraged her to tell her parents and the authorities. She said she also received threatening messages from Dieffenderffer, who warned her not to tell anyone.

Wood denies any involvement or knowledge of the incident

Wood, who joined the Ouray Police Department in 2019, has not commented publicly on the case, except for a brief statement to The Denver Post on Jan. 18, in which he said he was unaware of the allegations until two months after they occurred. He said he expected to be called as a witness at the trial, and that he could not comment on the plausibility of the victim’s allegations. He also said he cooperated fully with the CBI investigation.

The city’s news release on Jan. 29 did not mention Wood by name, but referred to him as “the Chief”. It said that Sgt. Gary Ray has been appointed as the acting police chief, and that the city will not comment further on the matter until the criminal proceedings are concluded. It also said that the city has no personnel investigations underway at the Ouray Police Department regarding the case.

The case has raised questions about the city’s handling of the allegations, and the possible conflict of interest or cover-up by Wood and other officials. The Plaindealer reported that Wood was sleeping in the house during the alleged rape, and that he did not notify the CBI or the Sheriff’s Office immediately after he learned of the incident. The Plaindealer also reported that Wood’s wife, who is Dieffenderffer’s mother, works as a victim advocate for the Sheriff’s Office, and that she accompanied the victim to a forensic exam in July 2023.

The case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 8, 2024, at the Ouray County Courthouse.

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