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Federal prison warden faces inmate sex abuse charges

Federal law enforcement also found hundreds of sexually graphic photos on his work cellphone.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A federal prison warden was arraigned in federal court in Oakland on Wednesday on charges of sexually abusing several inmates.

Ray J. Garcia, 55, of Merced, was accused in 2021 of sexually abusing at least one incarcerated woman at the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, east of San Francisco. Federal prosecutors say he groped at least one of his female wards, asked at least two inmates to strip naked for him and took and stored photographs of a naked inmate in a cell. Police located hundreds of sexually graphic photographs on Garcia’s work cellphone.

“In my training and experience, correctional officers who sexually abuse inmates often engage in tactics to deter inmates from reporting their misconduct, by threatening them, and/or suggesting that no one will trust them or believe them,” FBI special agent Katherine Barclay wrote in the complaint filed this past September. “I believe that Garcia’s statements to Victim 1 are consistent with an attempt to discourage her from reporting the abuse. Further, I believe that Garcia was well positioned as a high-level member of management at the facility to intimidate Victim 1 from reporting his criminal misconduct.”

Garcia pleaded not guilty to eight charges at an arraignment hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Kandis Westmore on Wednesday. Westmore received the Justice Department's new superseding indictment accusing Garcia abusing two other women serving prison sentences at the Dublin facility.

Garcia was associate warden at the all-female low-security facility at the time of the alleged abuse, then became warden before he was placed on leave last July, prosecutors said. He also stands accused of trying to deter a victim from reporting abuse by telling her he was friends with a person responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by inmates and saying he could not be fired. Prosecutors say he was trained to know sexual or financial involvement with incarcerated people is prohibited, and he trained new supervisors on the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act’s policies intended to deter sexual assaults on inmates.

Garcia’s attorney James Reilly did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The Bureau of Prisons has been long plagued by allegations of chronic mismanagement and abuse. Just in the past two years, the agency has struggled with a failed response to the pandemic, a series of escapes, deaths and critical staffing shortages that have hampered responses to emergencies. 

In 2020 there were 422 complaints of staff-on-inmate sexual abuse across the system, comprised of 122 prisons and 153,000 inmates. The bureau said it has substantiated only four of those complaints and that 290 are still being investigated.

This year, several House Democrats demanded the Bureau of Prisons make public an audit examining reports of sexual assault at the Dublin facility. The legislators wanted the bureau to examine the facility's compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act and to investigate “flawed reporting and investigation procedures regarding complaints of sexual violence and retaliation.” They also asked the inspector general to look at retaliation against staff members and inmates who filed complaints, the prison’s staffing levels and whether there’s adequate coverage with surveillance cameras.

FCI Dublin opened in 1974 and was converted to an all-female facility in 2012, one of five in the federal system. It typically holds about 750 inmates. In 2019, an inmate sued the prison claiming a guard sexually abused her and other employees helped to cover up the assault — which the prison denied.

Former FCI Dublin correctional officer and recycling technician Ross Klinger was also arrested last year on charges he abused his authority and coerced two inmates into sexual activity. According to prosecutors, Klinger, 36, told the inmates that he wanted to marry them and father their children, and gave them money and gifts.

If convicted, Garcia faces a maximum statutory sentence of 15 years imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. Garcia’s trial is set to begin Nov. 28.

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