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Former California Prison Warden and Guard Accused of Sexual Misconduct with Two Dozen Prisoners and Coworkers

by Jo Ellen Nott

On December 28, 2022, Acting Warden Mike Pallares referred a former Central California Women’s Facility guard to the Madera County District Attorney’s (DA’s) Office. A six-month investigation had uncovered accusations that Gregory Rodriguez sexually assaulted 22 prisoners at the state’s biggest lockup for women.

Just over a month later, on January 31, 2023, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announed that Pallares had also been referred to the DA’s Office, after similar allegations against him were made by at least two female co-workers. He was moved out of the prison and “is taking on Associate Warden responsibilities,” CDCR said.

Even as Pallares moved to oust the guard, he was already himself the subject of two sexual harassment suits filed in Madera County Superior Court by women working at the prison. One, filed by administrative worker Jennifer Galvani in September 2021, accused Pallares of “demanding sex” from her, after she complained to him about sexually inappropriate behavior by other staffers. That suit was dismissed in September 2022.

The other suit was filed in August 2020 by former Warden Janel Escobedo, alleging that Pallares “frequently made unwanted sexual advances” and told her that “he would leave his wife if she gave him three years, that he wanted to go away with her, and tried to kiss her.” Escobedo was then “abruptly terminated” in September 2019 after 23 years with CDCR, allegedly in retaliation for her accusations against Pallares. Her suit is still pending.

As of December 30, 2022, no charges had been filed against Pallares or Rodriguez, who retired in August 2022, when he was first approached by investigators. It appears that Pallares wasn’t prompted to refer him to the DA’s Office until attorney Robert Chalfant filed two federal civil rights lawsuits in early December 2022 accusing Rodriguez of raping two prisoners. 

One suit alleges that Rodriguez schemed to have “Jane Doe” summoned to a room where parole hearings happen, after sexually harassing her for weeks. Once lured into the office, where there are no video cameras, Rodriguez allegedly forced her to perform oral sex before bending her over a chair and raping her. Rodriguez then allegedly warned “Jane Doe” not to report the attack, and told her if questioned to say she was in the hearing room to meet with her attorney via computer. Her lawsuit says she “was afraid and felt hopeless and powerless to prevent future sexual assaults.” Both suits also claim prison officials were negligent in not preventing the rapes, since Rodriguez was allegedly well-known to prisoners as a sexual predator.

The federal court for the Eastern District of California granted “Doe’s” request to proceed under the pseudonym on December 12, 2022. See: Doe v. Rodriguez, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 223396 (E.D. Cal.). The same was granted to “Jane Roe” in Chalfant’s other case two days later. See: Roe v. Rodriguez, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 226266 (E.D. Cal.).

Rodriguez is not the first guard at the lockup to molest prisoners. In 2018, former guard Israel Trevino was fired for sexual misconduct – after working at the prison for a decade, during which he was formally warned about making sexually harassing comments to prisoners, according CDCR’s Office of the Inspector General.

Acting Warden Pat Vazquez replaced Pallares on January 23, 2023. 

Additional sources:  Associated Press, Legal Reader, Sacramento Bee, WOWK 

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