GREAT FALLS – Katie Cunningham took her family to the Montana State Fair on Monday for a night of fun.
Cunningham says they normally have a younger family member take her kids on the rides but this year she decided to take the children on the rides.
“We had been there for a bit. We had been on a bunch of rides and spending most of our time in the kiddie area,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham says that she had been fastening the seatbelt for herself and her children on the rides, but one ride was a little different.
She recalled, “I found it odd that the guy was checking seatbelts because no one had done that up to this point.”
She did not think anything of it, but Cunningham says the employee checked her seatbelt and then groped her between the legs.
The woman said that Garcia came to their car and tightened their seatbelt; while doing so, according to Cunningham, Garcia placed his finger directly on her vagina outside of her pants, according to the charging document. Cunningham told the officer that there “was no way it was an accident,” and explained that in order to come in contact with her vagina, Garcia had to leave the belt loose and reach downward.
Cunningham says she could not believe what happened.
“Most people would think it would be like this major incident that everyone would notice and it would be super obvious to everyone, but it is not,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham knows the signs of sexual assault, because of her work as a detective with the Great Falls Police Department.
She started telling herself it was an accident, but she knew that it was not an accident.
Cunningham says people often have that guilt even though they know they did nothing wrong.
“Through the course of this two-minute ride or however long this ride is, a whole wave of emotions just came through me. I was upset. I was angry. I was saddened,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham says when she got off the ride she was shaken and it was hard to walk past the carnival worker, who was later identified as Roberto Salaman Garcia. Garcia has since been charged with two misdemeanor counts of sexual assault (click here for article).
Cunningham reported the incident because she wasn’t sure how many other people he had touched.
Since Cunningham decided to share what happened to her, a second victim has come forward.
“I encourage people to come forward and speak out. Speak your emotions, speak how you feel, and say what you think happened to you. What does your gut tell you happened to you? No one can fault you for that,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham says she is grateful that other victims feel comfortable enough to come forward after she decided to speak up.
Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN News