Probation granted for former Douglas County deputy accused of sex acts with inmate

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Former Douglas County Sheriff's deputy Mario J. Godinez appears at his sentencing hearing in Douglas County District Court on Friday, May 24, 2019. He is pictured with attorney Phil Stein.

A Douglas County sheriff’s deputy who left the force after being accused of a sexual rendezvous with a female inmate has been granted a two-year probation.

At his sentencing hearing Friday, Mario J. Godinez, 47, of Lawrence, apologized to authorities and the community for what his attorney described as “a lapse in judgement” and “a terrible mistake.”

“I feel like I failed them all, and failed myself, and I’m really deeply sorry,” Godinez said.

Godinez was in charge of the inmate work release program at the Douglas County Jail when the alleged sex acts occurred in January 2018.

He was charged later in the year with unlawful sexual relations, a felony, for alleged “consensual” sexual activity with the inmate. He ultimately pleaded no contest and was convicted of felony aggravated battery instead, though he still must register as a sex offender because a judge deemed the crime sexually motivated.

Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny sentenced Godinez to two years on probation, in accordance with state sentencing guidelines for his conviction. As part of his probation, he must complete a psychological evaluation and follow any recommendations.

His underlying sentence, should he fail at probation, is a year in prison followed by a year of supervision, Pokorny said.

Godinez’s attorney, Phil Stein, said his client was embarrassed and apologetic, had lost his career with the sheriff’s office over the matter and was taking responsibility for his actions. Stein said he began working with Godinez when the investigation began and that they agreed early on that it was in everyone’s best interests for him to cooperate with law enforcement.

When the encounter occurred, the woman, 29, was serving consecutive jail sentences for a municipal case and two district court cases, according to the Journal-World’s review of those case files.

She was approved for the jail’s in-house inmate worker program but not the work release or work search programs, according to court files.

However, the woman was temporarily released from the jail under the guise of the work release program, according to a law enforcement affidavit in the case against Godinez, prepared by outside investigators from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

The inmate was fitted with an ankle bracelet and rode a city bus from jail to a convenience store, where Godinez picked her up in his personal vehicle, she and he both told investigators. Multiple sex acts occurred in the car, both while driving and while parked at the fairgrounds.

Prior to the encounter in the car, sexual contact occurred in his office at the jail, the two told investigators. They also exchanged romantic texts, according to the affidavit.

Godinez told investigators that the woman “flirted” with him and aggressively seduced him before he touched her. The woman told investigators that there was two-way flirting but that Godinez initiated all of the touching.

The affidavit does not name who outfitted the woman with the ankle bracelet or who approved her release from the jail.

However, no other sheriff’s employees were disciplined or placed on leave in relation to the incident, the sheriff’s office has said previously.

Godinez resigned from the sheriff’s office in April 2018, after being placed on administrative leave while the matter was under investigation. He was formally charged the following August.

As a result of Godinez’s charges, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said it would review its protocol for the work-release program.

Godinez told the judge Friday that he had obtained new employment recently but did not specify where.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd

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