Survivors of sexual abuse on Wednesday filed a class-action lawsuit against guards and officials at FCI Dublin, a federal women’s prison where plaintiffs argue there are inadequate systems for preventing, detecting, investigating and responding to rape and sexual assault at the facility.
The putative class-action suit comes after nearly a dozen individual lawsuits were lodged against guards and officials at the facility. Last month, two additional guards who worked at the federal prison, pled guilty to sexually abusing multiple incarcerated women, bringing the total to eight staff members at FCI Dublin who have been charged in the scandal.
“This litigation shines a light on the systemic nature of the abuse,” said Amaris Montes, an attorney with Rights Behind Bars, one of the law firms representing the eight plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “It was not only the individual officers who were at fault for the abuse, but the whole Bureau of Prisons system where officers at every level literally watched as other officers assaulted incarcerated people and helped to keep survivors silent through retaliation.”
The lawsuit alleges that for years, people incarcerated at the low-security women’s prison were subject to rampant and ongoing sexual abuse, including rape and sexual assault, drugging, groping and being forced to take explicit photos. It also claims women incarcerated at the facility were subject to abuse during medical exams and that immigrants were threatened with deportation if they did not comply.
It further alleges that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was aware of the problems for decades at FCI Dublin, but that the agency failed to respond to the heinous acts.
“Our clients allege that they were forced to engage in various sex acts with officers under threat of retaliation or by being promised basic necessities or special privileges,” Montes said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Others were forced to act as lookouts while officers sexually abused their friends and cellmates.”
The lawsuit calls for a jury trial and names the eight individuals charged so far, as well as FCI Dublin Warden Thahesha Jusino, BOP Director Colette Peters and other officers at the facility.
The lawsuit alleges that the prison staff’s sexual abuse of incarcerated people at FCI Dublin violates the Eighth Amendment, prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
One plaintiff in the case is cited as having to remove her clothes while officers masturbated in front of her. Another was forced to strip and dance for an officer who was “well known for trading food and basic goods with incarcerated individuals in exchange for sexual acts,” the complaint reads. Multiple plaintiffs said that officers subjected them to relentless harassment, assault and rape, or that they witnessed such behavior.
“We are someone’s mom, we are someone’s daughter. We are here to be rehabilitated, but when we are abused, we cannot be,” a plaintiff in the suit named G.M. said in a press release. “We are asking for change, and for these officers and this system to be held accountable.”
Maria, who experienced abuse while incarcerated at FCI Dublin, was sent to solitary confinement for nearly two weeks after a guard who abused her friend was exposed. Maria did not use her last name due to privacy and safety concerns.
“I was abused and I saw my friends abused by guards,” Maria told reporters through a translator on Wednesday. “They were supposed to protect us. I saw them abusing, grabbing and groping.”
Robin Lucas, who was formerly incarcerated at FCI Dublin, spoke to reporters on Wednesday about the challenges of changing the violence and culture at the facility, where she also experienced sexual abuse decades ago.
In 1995, Lucas said she was assaulted while placed in the segregated housing unit for men, the facility’s maximum-security confinement. She, along with two others incarcerated at the Dublin prison, sued and reached a $500,000 settlement in 1998.
As part of the settlement, the Bureau of Prisons agreed to no longer house women in the men’s maximum security unit at the Dublin facility. It also required the BOP to set up new training policies for staff and to better inform people who are incarcerated about how to report assault.
But now, almost 30 years later, Lucas said little has changed.
“I remember what it was like when I see these young girls get up there,” and come forward to report abuses, Lucas told KQED. “They well up with fear and intimidation and hurt, but there is a drive within them to speak up and say this is not right.”
Five former FCI Dublin staff members were already convicted of sexually abusing incarcerated women in the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation into the notorious facility. They include Chaplain James Highhouse, Warden Ray J. Garcia and three correctional officers. A case is still pending for charges against correctional officer Darrell Smith, according to federal officials.
Highhouse was sentenced to 84 months in prison and Garcia was sentenced to a 70-month term.
Nakie Nunley of Fairfield, who pleaded guilty in July, was charged with having sex with five victims while working as a supervisor for UNICOR, a call center staffed by women incarcerated at the prison. Nunley threatened to transfer women or strip them of their employment when confronted about the behavior, according to federal officials. He was also charged with lying to federal investigators with the U.S. attorney’s office.
“Nunley admitted that he told another victim that if she wanted to keep her job at UNICOR, she needed to pull down her underwear and bend over,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a release.
Andrew Jones of Pleasanton, who oversaw the prison’s Food Services Department, also pleaded guilty in July to sexually abusing incarcerated people in multiple places near the FCI Dublin kitchen, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
“This Office’s ongoing investigation into FCI Dublin has revealed significant findings of wrongdoing by multiple correctional officers at that facility,” said U.S. Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey of the Northern District of California in a July press release announcing the latest charges. “The Department of Justice has repeatedly warned that criminal misconduct in the care and safety of incarcerated persons will not be tolerated.”