Crime & Courts

Valley Center cop went from ‘hero’ to sex-crimes suspect, teen’s dad says

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Delgado receives a Carnegie Hero medal for pulling a man from a burning vehicle in 2011. (March 20, 2013)
Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Delgado receives a Carnegie Hero medal for pulling a man from a burning vehicle in 2011. (March 20, 2013) Eagle file photo

There was a time when Charles Ingram viewed Thomas Delgado as the best of cops.

In 2011, the Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy served as a mentor to Ingram’s troubled teenage daughter. That same year, Delgado received a major award for rescuing a man from a burning truck.

But by the end of 2011, the trust was shattered.

It has been more than five years since an internal sheriff’s investigation of Delgado was conducted. It found that Delgado spoke inappropriately about sex while in his patrol car with Ingram’s then-16-year-old daughter, Sheriff Jeff Easter said. Easter said he could divulge that because a letter about it was sent to the Ingram family.

Delgado now is suspected of felony crimes in which another child could be a victim.

In 2014, Delgado left the sheriff’s office and got a job with the Valley Center Police Department, where he was a sergeant.

The sheriff’s office announced on Friday that, following a weeks-long investigation of an allegation of official misconduct, its detectives had arrested Delgado on suspicion of official misconduct, rape, sexual battery and sexual exploitation of a child. The 49-year-old police sergeant was released from jail Friday on a $75,000 bond. The investigation continues. The case has yet to be presented to the district attorney’s office to determine whether charges will be filed.

Delgado resigned from his Valley Center job on Thursday, the same day as his arrest, Valley Center police Chief Mark Hephner said.

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Delgado could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

His arrest came five years after the sheriff’s office conducted the internal investigation that faulted Delgado for his behavior around the teenager. Easter, who became sheriff after the internal investigation, said that if he had been in charge at the time, he would have handled Ingram’s complaint against Delgado differently. There would have been a criminal investigation as well, Easter said. Easter took office about a year after the 2011 investigation. Robert Hinshaw, who was sheriff at the time of the internal investigation, said Tuesday that he has no memory of it.

Number to call

Sheriff’s detectives are now investigating whether anyone has had “contact of a similar nature” with Delgado, Easter said. He asked that anyone with information contact investigators at 316-660-5300.

Ingram, the father, said the news of Delgado’s arrest – and concern that there could be other victims – has prompted him to speak out.

In an 80-minute interview on Monday night, Ingram, a 47-year-old electrical contractor, gave a detailed account of how he came to know Delgado and how his perception of the lawman dramatically changed.

The timeline begins around 2009, when Ingram’s daughter was almost 14 and dealing with a host of problems. Delgado was one of the officers who repeatedly dealt with her after she ran away. By 2011, as his daughter’s problems continued, Ingram knew the deputy well enough to have his personal phone number. The frustrated father turned to Delgado to help talk his daughter through her crises.

“So he was kind of inside help to our family,” Ingram said.

One morning in the fall of 2011, Delgado came to the Ingram house near 84th Street and South Hydraulic to pick up the girl for a ride-along. That’s when a visitor gets to travel along in the patrol car to observe the work of an officer. She was now 16.

As the parent, Ingram signed a ride-along consent form.

The ride lasted three to four hours.

Ingram recalled the conversation as he approached the patrol car when it pulled back into his driveway.

“I heard you’re a hero,” Ingram said.

“He (Delgado) said, ‘What do you mean?’ ”

On Aug. 31, 2011, Delgado and another deputy, Joseph Page, rescued a 65-year-old Wichita man from a pickup that had crashed and caught on fire. As flames and heat spread, popping a tire, Delgado used a knife to cut the man from his seat belt. Delgado and Page pulled the man to safety. The two deputies were among 18 people across the United States and Canada to receive the Carnegie Hero award.

At the time, Ingram said, he was so thankful for Delgado’s intervention with his daughter that he told him, in tears: “I just want to let you know that you’re a hero to my daughter.”

‘Just totally shattered’

Then, a couple of months after the ride-along, everything changed. Ingram said he got a call from his daughter’s boyfriend, who said that something other than mentoring had happened during the hours-long ride.

Throughout the ride, his daughter was constantly texting the boyfriend, relating in real time what Delgado was saying and doing, Ingram said. The boyfriend “told me what went on” – that Delgado was talking about sex.

“This is the time that our heart was just totally shattered. The law just totally betrayed us. Sucked us in for three years… then spit us out, is how I felt,” Ingram said.

He then asked his daughter whether it was true, and she confirmed what the boyfriend had said.

Upset and wanting to know what to do with the information, Ingram turned to a friend with the sheriff’s office, Ingram said.

Minutes after talking to his friend, Ingram called the sheriff’s office and filed a complaint.

Ingram insisted on staying in the room with his daughter while a sheriff’s detective interviewed her about the complaint.

His 16-year-old daughter gave her side of the story, Ingram said. She said the deputy talked openly about his sex life and sex nonstop during the ride.

The teenager gave her texts to the detective. At the end of the interview, the detective said he would look into the teen’s account but couldn’t make promises. The detective also said that Ingram’s daughter had been to known to lie, Ingram said.

The interview is “just burned in my mind,” Ingram said.

About two months after the interview, around January 2012, the detective called back. He told Ingram that the investigation had corroborated everything his daughter said, Ingram said.

The detective said it was an internal investigation, and at the time, Ingram didn’t know what “internal” meant, but he thought it meant “finally justice will be served.” Internal investigations generally look at whether policy has been followed and whether discipline is warranted.

From a contact in the sheriff’s office, Ingram said, he was told that Delgado’s punishment was six months of desk duty at the sex-offender registry office.

At the time, still angry about what had happened to his daughter, Ingram thought about taking his story to news media. But he let it go. It seemed that his family was “coming together. I just wanted to put it behind me.”

Valley Center connection

Then, about six months ago, Ingram heard that Delgado was being accused of harassing people in Valley Center.

That same day, Ingram said, he called the Valley Center police chief and told him about his family’s experience with Delgado.

Hephner, the Valley Center police chief, told Ingram that Delgado was an upright officer and hadn’t caused any problems, Ingram recalled.

According to Ingram, Hephner said that before hiring Delgado, he had done an extensive background check and that according to references from the sheriff’s office, Delgado was one of their finest.

Easter said Tuesday that the Valley Center Police Department never contacted the sheriff’s office to ask for Delgado’s personnel or internal files, which included the finding against Delgado involving the ride-along.

Hephner said Tuesday he could not comment.

On Friday morning, Ingram saw on his daughter’s Facebook post that Delgado had been arrested. She posted that Delgado had victimized her.

Ingram said he believes that if Easter had been sheriff at the time the complaint was made against Delgado in late 2011, Delgado would have been fired, at the least, and that would have kept him from having a badge.

“He could have been stopped” five years ago, Ingram said.