by Jo Ellen Nott
Once known for famous prisoners from Hollywood, the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Dublin, California, is now in the spotlight for a different reason: As of March 2022, at least five Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employees have been charged with sexually abusing women held at the prison now referred to as “the rape club.”
As a result, the FBI and the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) are investigating, and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are demanding accountability from BOP, whose employees are all trained to understand that any sex with prisoners is abuse. As one of those charged, guard Ross Klinger, admitted to investigators: “Sexual misconduct of a ward, you can’t come back from that.”
As previously reported by PLN, former warden Ray J. Garcia, 54, was charged in September 2021 with groping and digitally penetrating an unnamed prisoner, grabbing her hand when she tried to push his hand away and placing it on his genitals. Other prisoners’ nude photos were also found on his government-issued cellphone. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.30.]
His arrest followed that of Klinger on three felony sex abuse charges against two prisoners. [See: PLN, Aug. 2021, p.62.] On February 10, 2022, Klinger, 37, pleaded guilty in federal court, admitting that he coerced the prisoners into having sex with him in 2020 with gifts, money and offers to marry them and father their children. He even stalked one woman after he was transferred to another prison, using an email alias—“Juan Garcia”—to manipulate her with details he gleaned from accessing her prison records without authorization.
Now three more BOP employees have been charged in the widening investigation, plus another two are under investigation (see below). As the news broke, acting FCI-Dublin warden T. Ray Hinkle—who’d been appointed to replace Garcia—sent an email to staff on February 24, 2022, saying they needed “to have the courage to address wrongdoing.”
Yet at the same time, allegations arose that Hinkle tried to silence a female employee by meeting with her personally when she complained of sexual harassment at the prison. Meeting privately with staff is a violation of BOP rules, as is attempting to handle sexual harassment accusations in-house.
Democratic Congress Members Demand Action
On March 14, 2022, the day before the sixth and seventh employee were placed on leave, Democratic U.S. Congress members Eric Swalwell, Jackie Speier and Karen Bass paid a visit to FCI-Dublin, after which Speier told reporters, “This prison is a cultural toxic environment. You have got a cultural rot in this institution that must be addressed.”
The congresswoman recalled an earlier visit to the prison on February 24, 2022, when Hinkle “repeatedly tried to block her from meeting privately with inmates, dismissed the allegations of sexual assault at Dublin as ‘an embarrassment’ and then only allowed her to speak with inmates he picked out in a prison yard, in front of prison officials and other inmates,” the Associated Press reported.
Four days after that visit, on February 28, 2022, Hinkle was relieved by new warden Thahesha Jusino, who faces the unenviable task of trying to right a ship wracked by the recent allegations of abuse.
John Russell Bellhouse: Klinger’s supervisor at FCI-Dublin was arrested in December 2021 and made his second court appearance in January 2022. Bellhouse, 39, is accused of having sex with a prisoner he began calling his “girlfriend” and allowed to use an office phone. He also reportedly gave her earrings to curry favor before engaging in sexual touching which culminated in oral sex on two occasions, one of which allegedly occurred in the prison Safety Office where he worked while another prisoner he’d recruited stood outside to keep watch.
Bellhouse was put on administrative leave when the allegations surfaced in March 2021 and charged after an investigation with one count of sexual abuse of a ward. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
James Theodore Highhouse: As a chaplain at FCI-Dublin from 2018 to 2019, Highhouse, 49, led religious services and offered spiritual guidance to prisoners, one of whom he met with alone in his office on numerous occasions, when he allegedly put his erection on the woman’s genitals, mouth and hand and masturbated in front of her.
After the accusation was made in late February 2019, Highhouse allegedly lied to FBI and DOJ investigators, leading to charges in January 2022 on four federal offenses relating to the sexual abuse of the female prisoner and one charge of making misleading statements to the feds. He pleaded guilty to all five felonies on February 23, 2022. Sentencing is set for July 6, 2022, when he faces a maximum penalty of 39 years in prison.
Enrique Chavez: On March 23, 2022, the former cook supervisor was charged with sexually abusing a prisoner. Ironically, a BOP task force was at FCI-Dublin meeting with staff and prisoners about eliminating the culture of abuse when Chavez was indicted on March 10, 2022, charged with fondling the prisoner’s breasts, buttocks, and genitals twice in October 2020.
By then he had been on administrative leave for months. He faces two counts of abusive sexual contact of a prisoner in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2244(a)(4), each carrying a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Nicholas Ramos and Sergio Saucedo: The two guards are not yet charged, but they were put on administrative leave in March 2022, according to John Kostelnik, vice president for the region’s correctional workers union. The day before they were walked off the job, the two were outed in an interview by Oakland TV station KTVU with Andrea Reyes, a former prisoner at FCI Dublin who identified herself as one of Klinger’s victims and said that Ramos also asked to be her “sugar daddy” in 2016, offering to put money on her commissary account and bring her gifts.
Reyes said she did not accept his offer knowing she would have to repay him with sex and that she could be isolated in a Special Housing Unit as punishment. Despite her refusal, Ramos allegedly continued to harass Reyes, even slamming a door into her. She reported the harassment to his superiors, including former warden Garcia, but no action was taken.
Reyes also said Saucedo aped Ramos’ behavior, though he never directly sexually harassed her. She said Saucedo was prone to erratic behavior and anyone could be the target, pointing to one incident when he allegedly threw away a prisoner’s rice to humiliate her.
Sources: ABC News, Associated Press, Independent News, KTVU, Los Angeles Times, Merucry News, Newsweek, San Diego Union Tribune
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login