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Jury takes over in inmate abuse trial of ex-prison warden

While prosecutors told jurors of a yearslong pattern of sexual abuse of inmates, the ex-warden's attorney told them to consider the source — women looking for a way out of prison.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The trial of a former prison warden accused of abusing incarcerated women is now in a federal jury’s hands.

Federal prosecutors told a jury and U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that Ray J. Garcia should be convicted of abusing female inmates and lying to the FBI, using evidence presented since the trial began Nov. 28. Garcia’s defense painted the case as "he said, she said" with “not an iota” of corroborating evidence of allegations underlying the charges.

Garcia, 55, of Merced, California, is among five workers at the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, east of San Francisco, charged with abusing incarcerated people. He faces charges of sexually abusing at least one inmate, and 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 taken of a naked inmate in a cell.

At his arraignment in federal court this past August, Garcia pleaded not guilty to all eight charges. Prosecutors filed a superseding indictment accusing Garcia of abusing two other women serving prison sentences at the all-female facility. He was associate warden at the low-security prison, then became warden before he was placed on leave in July.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly K. Priedeman spent an hour detailing Garcia's alleged sexual relationships with, and taking nude pictures of, three inmates from FCI Dublin who testified during the trial. She detailed a pattern of manipulation, telling jurors that Garcia told the inmates to strip naked and that he physically touched them.

“He called them beautiful, he complimented them, he made them feel special,” Preideman said Tuesday. “He exploited information he knew about them because of his position. He instructed them to strip, he showed them pictures of his penis and he touched them. And he deterred them from coming forward.”

One witness identified as Maria testified she was afraid to come forward about Garcia abusing her because he was working on her motion for a compassionate release, which he later denied. 

“Maria wanted to get home to her kids. The defendant knew that and he took advantage of her, manipulated her and abused her,” Priedeman said. 

Priedeman reminded the jury about pictures of Garcia having a naked video chat with a former inmate, violating the rule to wait two years before contact. Identified as “Rachel,” that woman described the same grooming pattern by Garcia before she left FCI Dublin.

She said Garcia lied to the FBI about having never taken a naked picture of an inmate, as evidenced by a photo of Melissa nude from his laptop that he acknowledged taking while on duty to “document her misconduct.” Priedeman said that action did not follow prison protocol to protect inmates’ privacy. Garcia acknowledged he did not tell any officials, but took the photos home, downloaded them to his personal computer and cropped them to focus on the inmate’s genitals and breasts “for his report” — which he never submitted. 

“It was to satisfy his own sexual desires,” Priedeman said. “He knew that if he told agents he took that photo of Melissa, that it would incriminate him.”

She added that when agents asked if Garcia told inmates to strip, he said, "I don't, like, schedule a time, like 'you be undressed and I'll be there.'" 

The FBI found hundreds of pictures of Garcia’s genitals on his work computer, including some taken at the prison.

“Why was the defendant taking pictures of his penis while he was on duty at work?” Priedeman asked the jury. “He took these pictures because he was sexually aroused at work.”

Garcia worked to conceal evidence like downloading an app to hide photos while the FBI was investigating other officers, telling Maria to hide evidence of their relationship and using a burner phone to talk to Rachel, prosecutors said. But evidence still exists.

“Inmates don't leave their rights at the door of the prison,” she said. “The defendant has been banking on his ability to portray the victims as liars since before he was caught. He never thought they would come forward, and if they did he thought no one would ever believe them.”

As his client — wearing a gray suit, wedding ring and blue mask — watched, attorney James Reilly spent nearly two hours on closing arguments. He told the jury to focus on how the case was built on testimonies of inmates, versus Garcia's “absolutely unequivocal, forceful denials."

Garcia spent 32 years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and was recognized “as an absolutely outstanding correctional officer" and "No one gets to have that kind of success and that kind of reputation by fiddling around on the side with inmates,” he said. 

Reilly said there is no procedure for incarcerated people to report sexual abuse by the warden, but they can report any prison official through the same channels — which the warden oversees.

He also pointed out that there is no photo of Garcia having sexual contact with the inmates, despite 198 cameras inside the facility which Garcia made sure were operating. He said it is unlikely that Garcia would risk “losing everything he’s worked for 30 years for to digitally penetrate this woman once or twice in the bathroom.” 

Inmates do have reason to testify against Garcia, he said — to get a compassionate release or file a civil suit. Melissa has a rule 35 motion pending for a sentence reduction, for cooperation in the investigation.

“Sometimes when a lot of people say something, that has a tendency to make it feel like it has more weight,” he said. “But the number of witnesses in a case like this is not a determining factor.” 

But the prosecution said in rebuttal that Garcia knew where to hide his his activity from prison cameras. That was why, as witnesses say, he abused them in places like the prison bathroom where there are no cameras.

The jury is expected to deliberate for at least one day. 

If convicted, Garcia faces a maximum statutory sentence of 15 years imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. 

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