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Ex-women's prison warden gets 6 years for inmate sex abuse

Federal Prisons Sexual Abuse
Posted at 8:06 PM, Mar 22, 2023

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The former warden of an abuse-plagued federal women’s prison in the San Francisco Bay Area was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for sexually abusing incarcerated women.

A judge sentenced Ray J. Garcia to 70 months in prison for sexually abusing three female inmates and forcing them to pose naked for photos in their cells at the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, about 21 miles (34 kilometers) east of Oakland. His term will be followed by 15 years of supervised release, and he must also register as a sex offender with the state of California.

A jury in December found Garcia guilty of eight counts of sexual abuse and one count of lying to the FBI. He was among five workers charged with abusing inmates at the federal correctional institution and the first to go to trial.

Garcia, 55, retired from his post in 2021 after the FBI found nude photos of inmates on his government-issued phone. Garcia was charged with abusing three inmates between December 2019 and July 2021.

Two of the three women Garcia was convicted of abusing spoke about what they endured before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers sentenced him, the East Bay Times reported.

One of them described her post-traumatic stress disorder from the abuse, the newspaper reported.

“I was not seen as a name or number by the federal government, but seen as a sexual play toy,” the woman said. “

Gonzalez Rogers chastised Garcia for his role in tormenting women at the federal facility.

“I sentence hundreds of people; I expect and they should be able to expect that when they go into federal custody, they won’t be abused,” Gonzalez Rogers said. “And you abused them. And there was no one watching you — you were the warden, and you were the associate warden.

“You were supposed to be the check. You were supposed to be the person making sure no one else did that.”

An Associated Press investigation last year revealed a culture of abuse and cover-ups that had persisted for years at the prison, about 21 miles (34 kilometers) east of Oakland. That reporting led to increased scrutiny from Congress and pledges from the federal Bureau of Prisons that it would fix problems and change the culture at the prison.

The trial has called into question the Bureau of Prisons’ handling of sexual abuse complaints from inmates against staff and the vetting process for the people it chooses to run its prisons.

The four other charged Dublin employees are at various stages of their cases.

James Theodore Highhouse, the former prison chaplain who pleaded guilty to abusing an inmate in his chapel office and lying to authorities, was sentenced in August to seven years in prison. He is appealing the punishment, arguing it exceeded federal guidelines.

Enrique Chavez, a food service foreman, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last month to 20 months in prison. Ross Klinger, a recycling technician, has pleaded guilty but has not been sentenced. John Russell Bellhouse, a prison safety administrator, is scheduled to stand trial on May 30.

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

“You entered a cesspool and then did nothing about it. You just went along with the ride and enjoyed the cesspool yourself,” Gonzalez Rogers said, the East Bay Times reported. “You should have done something about it.”

Before the judge issued her ruling, Garcia admitted fault for abusing women at the prison and expressed contrition and remorse. In the process, he also waived his right to appeal the verdict and sentence.

“Your honor, I stand before you today as a broken man,” Garcia said. “I could not be more ashamed. I can’t be more sorry.”

“I cannot imagine the pain, fear and shame they’ve gone through as a result of my actions,” he said of his victims.

The judge ordered Garcia to turn himself in and begin serving the sentence on May 19. The prison where he will serve his sentence has not been determined.