Vernal man charged with multiple counts of child abuse

A Vernal man faces numerous child molestation charges alleging choking children, burning a child with a cigarette and other crimes. (Billions of photos, Shutterstock)

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VERNAL – Multiple criminal charges were filed this week against a Vernal man who is being investigated for ongoing child molestation.

As of Wednesday, Jeremiah Solomon John Espinoza, 48, was charged in the Eighth Circuit Court on three counts of aggravated assault and a total of six counts of aggravated child molestation, third-degree felonies and child molesting with bodily harm, a Class A misdemeanor.

He is accused of abusing two young girls by burning one with a cigarette, forcing one to eat his own vomit, putting people in a potentially fatal choke hold and assaulting a woman after he was first killed was arrested to investigate child abuse and issued a protective order against him, according to the indictment.

The investigation began on Sunday when a 13-year-old girl contacted police, claiming Espinoza “would grab her by the throat, he would threaten to slice and dice her sister, and her brother would be beaten regularly,” according to sources it in a police affidavit.

The girl told police that more than once Espinoza put his hands on her neck and choked her. Investigators then interviewed other children and obtained “consistent testimony from these children that supported Jeremiah’s use of grabbing the children by the throat as a common form of punishment,” the affidavit reads.

The girl also said she and her siblings were told to “keep it a secret,” the affidavit said.

“She said the adults don’t want the cops or officers involved. (She) said there’s a rule… they don’t want the state to get involved.[She]said she felt she had to break that rule because she wanted her and her siblings to be safe,” the affidavit reads.

When questioned by police, Espinoza denied molesting anyone, instead explaining that he taught the children a move called the “ranger choke hold.”

Police also noted that Espinoza changed his story several times while he was being interrogated.

When police went to the house, they found “blood stains on the wall and a broken wooden paddle that the children were used to beating with”. Espinoza was subsequently arrested and charged with suffocating the 13-year-old girl and given a protective order.

However, he was arrested again the next day, Monday, after getting upset about being served the protection order and, according to indictment documents, grabbing his girlfriend who lives in the household by the throat. The woman told detectives that, according to another police affidavit, Espinoza “called the neck hold a ranger choke hold, which was reportedly a move Jeremiah learned during his military service.” When questioned, Espinoza denied choking the woman but admitted the “Ranger stranglehold” was a “deadly tactic.”

When detectives continued to question the children Tuesday, they said they learned of other abuses inflicted on an 8-year-old girl since the beginning of the year, including, according to a police affidavit and prosecution documents:

  • hit her on the nose with a closed fist.
  • grab her by the throat.
  • Toss her a small plastic step stool.
  • Getting upset with her for not finishing her food and putting habanero sauce on her uneaten food and making her eat it sans utensils and then forcing her to eat her vomit after she throws up.
  • She burned her hand with a cigarette.

A judge on Thursday ordered Espinoza to be held in the Uintah County jail without the option of bail.

Child Abuse Resources:

  • The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential 24-hour nationwide domestic violence hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: The national child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).
  • The Utah Division of Child and Family Services provides counseling, teaches parenting skills and conflict resolution, and can connect families with community resources. His goal is to keep children with their families when it is “possible and safe”. Visit or call 801-538-4100.
  • The Christmas Box House acts as a temporary shelter for children and can provide them with new clothes and shoes, among other things. Call the Salt Lake office at 801-747-2201 or the Ogden office at 801-866-0350.

Domestic Violence Resources

For help for people in abusive relationships, see:

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and court reporter. He joined the team in 2021 after many years reporting for Deseret News

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