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Senators Slam “Egregious” Prisoner Sexual Abuse by BOP Employees

by Mark Wilson

“I was sentenced and put in prison for choices I made,” said Briane Moore. “I was not sentenced to prison to be raped and abused.”

She was testifying at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on December 9, 2022, about being repeatedly raped by a guard captain while incarcerated at a federal prison in West Virginia. As PLN has reported over and over again, Moore is far from alone.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confines nearly 160,000 prisoners nationwide. About 7% – 11,200 – of them are women, held in 27 lockups. A scathing report released by the Committee during that December 2022 hearing revealed that BOP employees have sexually abused prisoners in at least two-thirds of those facilities since 2012. The investigation also found “egregious abuse” suffered by some prisoners, lasting for months or even years.

It’s not just guards who show up to work looking for sex; some prisoners were abused by high-ranking BOP officials. The report also highlighted especially awful abuse at BOP facilities in New York and Florida, as well as California, where a scandal has turned the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Dublin into the “Rape Club.” Eight staffers have been arrested so far, all but one of those convicted – including former Warden Ray Garcia and former Chaplain James T. Highhouse.

Both men have already been sentenced to federal prison terms. Garcia got 70 months on March 23, 2023. Highhouse got 84 months on August 31, 2022. Guard Enrique Chavez has also been sentenced, receiving a 20-month term on February 9, 2023.

Still awaiting sentencing are guards Ross Klinger, Nakie Nunley and Andrew Jones, as well as guard Supervisor John Bellhouse. He was convicted by a jury on June 5, 2023. Nunley and Jones pleaded guilty on July 14, 2023. Klinger pleaded guilty in October 2022 and cooperated in the prosecution of his former co-workers. The last employee charged – so far – was guard Andrew Jones on April 13, 2023.

Garcia, who earned $170,800 in 2020 as Warden, got an earful at his sentencing from federal Judge Yvonne Gonzalez, who said he “entered a cesspool and did nothing about it” but instead “just went along for the ride and enjoyed the cesspool.” Two of his victims are suing him. See: M.R. v. Fed. Corr. Inst. Dublin, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:22-cv-05137; and R.R. v. Garcia, USDC (D. Alas.), Case No. 3:23-cv-00140.

In addition, the former warden is named in three more suits filed against Bellhouse by the former guard’s victims. See: M.S. v. Fed. Corr. Inst. Dublin, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:22-cv-08924; Preciado v. Bellhouse, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:22-cv-09096; and D.S. v. United States, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:23-cv-02668.

Two of Klinger’s victims have also filed suit, as well as four alleged victims of guard Sergio Saucedo, who was placed on leave in March 2022 but has not been charged. See: D.V. v. United States, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:23-cv-02135; A.R. v. United States, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:23-cv-02405; C.C. v. United States, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:23-cv-02206; L.A. v. United States, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:23-cv-03475; Y.S. v. United States, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:23-cv-03538; and L.C. v. United States, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 4:23-cv-03558.

San Diego attorney Jessica Pride, who is representing plaintiffs in most of these suits, applauded the convictions so far, saying “[m]y clients feel heard.”

BOP “Management Failures” Blamed

The Senate investigation determined that “management failures enabled continued sexual abuse,”  and instead of holding employees accountable, BOP “failed to detect, prevent, and respond to sexual abuse of female prisoners in its custody.”

BOP has a backlog of about 8,000 internal affairs cases – hundreds alleging sexual abuse – some pending for five years, investigators found. But delay was not the worst internal affairs problem. Several BOP employees in Florida who “admitted to sexual abuse of female detainees in graphic detail” were not prosecuted because the internal affairs office compelled them to sit for interviews under oath. These are commonly referred to as Garrity interviews, for the Supreme Court decision that any inculpatory statements made by a government employee forced to answer questions under oath cannot be used against him in a subsequent criminal prosecution. See: Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967). Investigators criticized this “perverse” outcome for leaving all of the admitted rapist employees not prosecuted.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is responsible for criminal investigations of alleged misconduct by BOP employees. But “[d]ue to capacity constraints, OIG is only able to investigate a fraction of the allegations of criminal misconduct, including sexual abuse of female prisoners by employees,” the report found. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz told the Committee that his office hoped to devote more resources to these investigations.

Colette S. Peters, who was appointed BOP Director in August of 2022, told the Committee that stopping sexual misconduct “is an issue of critical importance.” Yet she was unable or unwilling to stop such chronic abuse at Oregon’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility during her decade as director of the state Department of Corrections. A former nurse at the prison, Tony D. Klein, was convicted on July 25, 2023, of depriving nine prisoners of their civil rights when he abused his position to rape them in 2017 and 2018. Klein was tried in federal court because local prosecutors refused to do so – even after the state made payouts in 2020 totaling over $1.87 million to at least 11 women he victimized.

Speaking to Chairman Sen. Jon Ossoff, (D-Ga), and others on the Committee at the December 2022 hearing, Peters claimed that BOP was making reforms and adding more internal-affairs employees. The Committee’s report, however, criticized BOP for beginning “to institute agency-wide changes” only after the shocking, longtime FCI-Dublin sexual abuse “came to light.” See: Sexual Abuse of Female Inmates in Federal Prisons, Staff Report of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, U.S. Senate (December 9, 2022).

“This situation is intolerable,” Ossoff declared. “Sexual abuse of inmates is a gross abuse of human and constitutional rights and cannot be tolerated by the United States Congress.” 

Additional source: Washington Post