DUCHESNE COUNTY, Utah – Two inmates in the Duchesne County Jail are now facing forcible sex abuse charges for an incident that erupted over alleged theft of sugar packets.
The Duchesne County Sheriff’s Office said 30-year-old Zhondee Spring Nephi and 21-year-old Letha Ilene Beston are each charged with two counts of forcible sexual abuse.
Nephi is also charged with assault by a prisoner.
Nephi was originally booked into the Duchesne County Jail by Bureau of Indian Affairs police following her arrest in connection with the Aug. 23 death of Sukakee Manyhides, which has been ruled a homicide.
Beston was originally being held in the jail for a weapons offense under a sheriff’s office contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Deputies said, on Oct. 29, a female inmate told authorities Nephi punched her.
Authorities reviewed the jail’s security video to confirm the assault and discovered there was more to the assault than a punch.
Deputies said they saw Beston take that inmate and another inmate into the shower and forced them to submit to a “strip search.”
The two inmates who were searched told authorities Beston was acting “at the command” of Nephi, who suspected the women of stealing sugar packets from her jail commissary order.
They told investigators Beston made them remove all of their clothes and one of them was forced into a second search because “she [Beston] didn’t believe the woman exposed her ‘women parts’ sufficiently,” according to court records.
Deputies said one of the inmates told them she submitted to the strip search to “avoid a fight.”
The other told investigators she believes Nephi and Beston “made up the story of the stolen sugar to belittle and make her and (the other inmate) feel smaller than them.”
According to deputies, the security video shows the second inmate leaving the shower after the search and confronting Nephi.
Court records state “inmate Nephi grabbed (the woman) by the throat and punched (her) in the face.”
Investigators said Nephi and Beston admitted to the searches.
Nephi also admitted she hit one of the inmates they strip searched.
Nephi and Beston remain in jail; however, Duchesne County prosecutors have had to get warrants for their arrests because they are legally under tribal jurisdiction.
Dates for their initial appearances on the state charges had not been set Friday.