Former prison warden faces trial over inmate abuse allegations – KESQ

Associated Press

The former director of an abuse-ridden federal women’s prison known as the “rape club” will go on trial Monday, accused of sexually abusing female inmates and forcing them to pose nude in their cells.

Ray J. Garcia, who retired after the FBI found nude photos of inmates on his government-issued phone last year, is one of five workers charged with abusing inmates at the federal correctional institution in Dublin, California, and the first to go to trial.

Opening statements and first witnesses are expected Monday in federal court in Oakland. Garcia, 55, pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he would face up to 15 years in prison.

An Associated Press investigation in February revealed a culture of abuse and cover-up that had persisted for years at the prison, about 21 miles (34 kilometers) east of Oakland. That report led to increased scrutiny by Congress and promises from the Federal Bureau of Prisons that it would fix the problems and change the culture in the prison.

Garcia is accused of abusing three inmates between December 2019 and July 2021, but the jury was able to hear from up to six women who say he groped them and told them to pose nude or in provocative clothing. U.S. District Judge Yvonne González Rogers said prosecutors can call three additional accusers as witnesses, even if their allegations are not part of her indictment.

Garcia’s attorney has repeatedly refused to comment, saying he would answer the charges “only through the judicial process.” Court records indicate that the defense plans to argue that Garcia took pictures of an inmate because she wanted documentation that she was violating the policy by being nude.

The case, with shadows of #MeToo behind bars, is likely to draw attention to the Bureau of Prisons, questioning its handling of allegations of sexual abuse by inmates against staff and the vetting process of the people it chooses to manage their prisons. .

Garcia was promoted from associate warden to warden in November 2020 while still abusing inmates, prosecutors say. The Bureau of Prisons has said it did not learn of the abuse until later. Garcia is the highest-ranking federal corrections officer arrested in more than 10 years.

The agency’s new director, Colette Peters, reiterated the agency’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct by staff and called for harsher punishments for workers who commit abuse. But as the abuses spread across Dublin, the process for reporting them became inherently broken.

Garcia was in charge of training staff and inmates on reporting abuse and complying with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act at the same time he committed abuses, prosecutors say, and some inmates say they were sent to solitary confinement or other prisons for accusing employees of abuse.

Prosecutors say Garcia tried to keep his victims quiet with promises that he would help them obtain early release. He allegedly told a victim that he was “close friends” with the corrections officer responsible for investigating staff misconduct and that he could not be fired. According to one indictment, he said he liked to frolic with the inmates because, given his lack of power, they couldn’t “ruin” him.

Garcia is also accused of ordering inmates to strip for him while he made his rounds and of lying to federal agents, who asked him if he had ever asked inmates to strip for him or inappropriately touched a woman. recluse.

“If they are undressing, I already looked,” Garcia told the FBI in July 2021, according to court records. “I don’t like to schedule a time like, ‘You get undressed and I’ll be there.'”

Garcia was placed on administrative leave before retiring. He was arrested in September 2021.

The inmates were not identified in court documents. The AP generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they consent to be identified.

All sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal. Correctional employees enjoy substantial power over inmates, controlling every aspect of their lives from mealtime to lights out, and there is no scenario in which an inmate can consent.

Earlier this month, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco ordered US federal prosecutors to “consider the full range of statutes,” including the federal Violence Against Women Act in cases involving employees of the Bureau of Prisons accused of sexual misconduct.

In those cases, Monaco said prosecutors should consider asking judges for sentences that go beyond the federal guidelines if the sentence recommended in the guidelines is not “fair and proportional to the seriousness of the crimes.”

Monaco, a key player in the Justice Department’s attempt to reform the federal prison system, meets regularly with the director of the Bureau of Prisons and the department’s inspector general and has met with US attorneys and the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, to emphasize the need to press charges when prison employees commit misconduct.

Of the four other Dublin workers accused of abusing inmates, three have pleaded guilty and one is scheduled to stand trial next year. James Theodore Highhouse, the prison chaplain, is appealing his seven-year prison sentence, arguing that it was excessive because it was more than twice the punishment recommended in federal sentencing guidelines.


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