Carnival worker charged with second count of sexual assault from incidents at Montana State Fair in Cascade County

Roberto Salaman-Garcia has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault while working for the Mighty Thomas Carnival at the Montana State Fair.

Both incidents occurred on July 30, but one was reported immediately by the victim, Great Falls Police Detective Katie Cunningham, who has chosen to speak publicly about the incident in an effort to prevent anyone else being victimized.

The second incident was reported on Wednesday evening and the additional charge was filed Thursday morning.

Salaman-Garcia was arrested and booked into the jail again on Thursday and as of 5 p.m. Thursday was still in jail on a $5,000 bond, according to County Attorney Josh Racki.

Salaman-Garcia was trespassed from the Cascade County fairgrounds after the first complaint was filed but the court has added conditions of his release Salaman-Garcia can’t leave the county and cannot work rides at the fair, Racki said.

The carnival initially posted Salaman-Garcia’s bail but John Hanschen, president of the Thomas Carnival, told The Electric that as of Thursday evening he didn’t know the details of the second charge and couldn’t speculate on whether they’d pay it.

Roberto Salaman-Garcia

Roberto Salaman-Garcia, Cascade County Sheriff’s Office photo.

A court date was initially set for October and Hanschen said “we would do everything in our power to see that Mr. Garcia appears in court as ordered.”

Both incidents occurred on the Speedway ride in the kid’s section of the carnival, according to the probable cause affidavit and the victim.

Cunningham had gone to the fair Monday night with her family and was on the Speedway ride with her daughter when Salaman-Garcia allegedly came to their car to tighten the seat belt. In doing so, “he placed his finger directly on her vagina outside her pants,” according to the initial charging documents.

According to court documents, a second woman contacted the Sheriff’s Office Wednesday evening and said that while checking her seat belt on the Speedway ride on July 30, Salaman-Garcia “slid his middle finger along her vagina on the outside of her pants.” The victim “believed this to be a purposeful act as there was no way to come in contact with her vagina while touching the seat belt.”

“I didn’t anticipate that happening, obviously,” Cunningham said in an interview with The Electric.

She said she hadn’t planned to ride with her daughter and was instead going to send her niece, but was glad she decided to go so it didn’t happen to the younger girls.

Cunningham said she’d gone on five or six rides already Monday night and no carnival workers had checked their seat belts at all, so it seemed odd to her that Salaman-Garcia was checking.

Cunningham said that Salaman-Garcia had come by their seats earlier and indicated that Cunningham should switch seats with her daughter, but he didn’t speak much.

Cunningham said she saw Salaman-Garcia check the seat belts of young girls sitting in front of her and when he touched her, “I was so taken aback. I was shocked and surprised.”

But even with her training and work experience as a GFPD special victims unit detective, Cunningham said she briefly thought to herself maybe it was an accident and she didn’t want to ruin the evening and she considered not saying anything.

That thought was quickly followed by “I wonder how many people he’s done that to,” she said. Cunningham said he was nonchalant about it and continued on as if nothing had happened.

It was a violent act, she said, and wouldn’t likely have been noticeable to any bystanders,

“If I encourage people on a daily basis to come forward and even testify in court,” she said, then she should do the same when something happened to her.

Cunningham said she wanted to speak out about the incident since it seemed as if the carnival was backing Salaman-Garcia and trying to get him back to work and there was the potential for more people to be victimized.

In a statement to The Electric, carnival president John Hanschen said Salaman-Garcia had worked with the carnival for two seasons and they’d had no complaints or issues with him.

Salaman-Garcia is a Mexican national with a work visa, Hanschen said, and that the carnival is cooperating with the sheriff’s office as they continue their investigation.

Cunningham said that in reporting the incident, “I want to tell people there is no reason to be ashamed.”

In her work, she said victims of sexual assault often tell her that they freeze when it happens. Cunningham said now she has that first hand experience and “you truly just freeze,” she said.

“Now I understand the emotional roller coaster that goes along with it,” she said. “I was visibly shaken when I got off that ride that day. I was really surprised by that.”

Through her job and training, she said sexual assaults are highly underreported and “the only way to overcome that is to speak out.”

It’s a misdemeanor and Garcia has a right to reasonable bail and to face his accused, “which I’m prepared to do,” she said.

“I speak up when I think something’s wrong,” she said. “There’s no way I’m the only one.”

Cunningham commended the county attorney’s office for how seriously they were taking the situation.

Capt. John Schaffer of the GFPD and Racki both said their offices had called authorities in Billings to give them a head’s up since the Thomas Carnival moves there next. Now that Salaman-Garcia has been ordered to remain in Cascade County, if he’s spotted in Billings, he can be arrested again, Racki said, should he post bond.

Cunningham attended the hearing on Tuesday that was continued to Wednesday since a translator was needed.

She said through her experience and case work, offenders start with touching and behavior can escalate into more violent actions.