OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — On the first day of a former federal prison warden's trial on sexual assault charges, a female inmate told jurors how she felt the first time she was attacked in the prison.
“I was in shock, I didn’t know what to think,” the woman identified as Melissa testified. “I couldn’t believe it was happening, but I felt like he loved me and he cared about me and I wanted to make him happy.”
Ray J. 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 incarcerated woman, 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. Police located hundreds of sexually graphic photographs on Garcia’s work cellphone.
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 at the time,, then became warden before he was placed on leave this past 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 claims of misconduct by inmates and saying he could not be fired.
Prosecutors say he was trained to know sexual or financial involvement with inmates is prohibited, and he trained new supervisors on the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act’s policies intended to deter sexual assaults of inmates.
In the federal courtroom Monday before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers, Melissa testified Garcia developed a relationship with her that was at first “sweet and loving,” but soon turned physical as he became “pornographic and vulgar."
A woman with short brown hair wearing black prison slacks, Melissa said since she came to FCI in 2015, Garcia paid her many compliments and told her she did not deserve to be in prison.
“He always told me how beautiful I was, how sexy I was and how soft my skin was and how he couldn’t wait to touch me and how beautiful my skin and lips were,” Melissa told jurors. “He made me feel special.”
She said she developed romantic feelings for Garcia when he offered to transfer her to FCI’s lower-security camp, asked about her son and offered to help her attend her mother’s funeral in late 2019. She said Garcia began physically assaulting her between then and 2020, including digitally assaulting her in a prison bathroom and asking to take nude photos.
As Melissa spoke, Garcia — wearing a gray suit, blue mask and a wedding ring — watched her closely and took notes.
Prosecutor Andrew Paulson described Garcia as having “nearly total control” over hundreds of women given his position of authority at the prison.
He said Garcia used that power to manipulate and sexually abuse multiple women using coercion, though he was trained to know they could not consent. He showed the jury photographs of women nude inside the prison, taken on Garcia's work cellphone and discovered by FBI agents on his work computer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is an abuse of power of the most profound sort,” he said, adding, "Only he had the power to send a referral of sexual abuse to criminal investigators.”
Garcia’s attorney James Reilly, who has declined to comment on the case, said Garcia will testify and address every allegation. He said Garcia will deny ever touching female inmates sexually or having them touch him. He also reminded the jury that the witnesses are all convicted felons, and their testimony will be up against tools like security cameras placed throughout the prison — except in restricted areas like restrooms.
“The evidence is not going to show one single video of any of these supposed events,” he said. “There’s no evidence whatsoever to support the claims that these things happened.”
Authorities began investigating Garcia when an Associated Press report this past February revealed a yearslong culture of abuse and cover-ups at the prison. That report 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.
FCI Dublin opened in 1974 and was converted to an all-female facility in 2012, one of five in the federal system, and typically holds about 750 inmates. In the past two years, the Bureau of Prisons 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 of 122 prisons and 153,000 inmates.
If convicted, Garcia faces a maximum statutory sentence of 15 years imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. The trial is expected to last until mid-December.
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