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FBI Raids California Prison Facing 63 Lawsuits Over Systemic Sexual Abuse

Four days after 12 lawsuits alleged abuses by 23 prison employees, the FBI raided the prison known as “the rape club.”

The Dublin Federal Correctional Institution is photographed on September 13, 2019, in Dublin, California.

At 7:45 on Monday morning, employees at the federal correctional institution (or FCI) in Dublin, California, abruptly placed the prison on lockdown.

“Everything seemed normal,” 58-year-old Rhonda Fleming told Truthout. Breakfast had been served as usual. After eating, she went to the education department to do some legal research. Ten minutes later, the entire prison was placed on recall — meaning that every incarcerated person was required to lock into their cells.

Moments before they were locked in, some women saw FBI agents enter the prison. Others even witnessed part of the latest raid from their windows.

By the time their cell doors opened nine hours later, the acting warden, the associate warden, a captain and an executive assistant were removed from their positions. FBI agents had also seized computers, documents, and other evidence from the prison administration.

The raid is the latest in a years-long investigation into the federal prison which has been dubbed “the rape club.” In 2022, FCI Dublin made headlines when six employees, including the warden and chaplain, were arrested for sexually abusing women in custody. Later, two more guards were arrested. Seven have since pled guilty and been sentenced to prison. The eighth, Darrell Smith, known as “Dirty Dick Smith,” is going to trial on 12 counts of sexually abusing three incarcerated women.

These much-publicized arrests did little to change the culture of sexual abuse and retaliation at the prison. In August 2023, survivors at Dublin filed a class action suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for continuing to allow the conditions that cultivated the rape club.

In early March 2024, advocacy groups filed lawsuits on behalf of 12 survivors of Dublin sexual abuse. The lawsuits detail repeated forcible rapes, coerced sexual activity, inappropriate sexual touching, sexual harassment, voyeurism and retaliation against those who spoke about — or were simply perceived to be speaking about — the abuses. Women described being held down by two officers while being forcibly raped by a third; waking to find an officer on top of them removing their clothes; being forced to masturbate, perform strip shows or commit sex acts on other incarcerated people while officers watched; or being threatened with solitary confinement, loss of “good time” (time off their sentence for completion of programs) or harm to their families if they did not submit to sexual activity.

The suits charge that these acts violate the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment as well as California state law against gender violence, invasion of privacy and sexual assault. Several lawsuits also charge prison employees with violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law which punishes anyone who uses force, threats of force, fraud, coercion, enticements or an exchange of goods to cause a person to engage in commercial sex acts or forced labor.

“The prison context is so coercive inherently,” said Susan Beaty, cocounsel on these lawsuits and an attorney with the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice. “Officers used so many tools to force people to do what they wanted.” The enticements included gifts and bribes, including contraband, or items that were prohibited in prison such as outside food, in exchange for sex acts or silence. Other times, they threatened or punished those who did not engage in sex with them or those who did not stay silent. “And that’s trafficking,” Beaty noted.

Some of the survivors also charge that staff regularly made racist, homophobic and transphobic comments. Some described being transferred to other federal prisons where they continued to face retaliation from staff for reporting the abuse.

The abuse described stretched as far back as 2014 and as recently as November 2022. “This is a cultural problem,” Beaty stated. “It’s not about individual officers.”

PREA “Really Doesn’t Exist at Dublin”

In 2003, the federal government passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which prohibits sexual contact between staff and incarcerated people. It also requires jails and prisons to have clear reporting mechanisms. Federal law classifies any sexual contact between staff and incarcerated people as a felony punishable with up to 15 years in prison. But, as one incarcerated survivor testified during the trial of former Warden Ray Garcia, the Prison Rape Elimination Act “really doesn’t exist at Dublin.”

Dublin is now the focus of 63 active lawsuits.

The latest dozen name 23 Dublin employees. Some are named in several individual lawsuits, including Darrell Smith, who is currently facing aggravated sexual abuse charges;, Enrique Chavez, who was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison for sexually abusive contact; and Nicholas Ramos, who died by suicide after being put on leave pending investigation. Ray Garcia, who, as warden, was responsible for training on the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the hiring, training and supervising of prison staff, was named in all 12 suits for not only failing to stop the rampant sexual abuse but, in some instances, perpetrating these attacks. In 2022, Garcia was convicted of eight charges of molesting women in custody and forcing them to pose naked for him and sentenced to six years in federal prison.

Some employees named in these lawsuits are not facing charges in criminal court. The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that at least seven are still employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but declined to state who had been placed on administrative leave pending investigation and who was currently working inside Dublin.

“The fact that there are so many officers implicated — with eight criminally prosecuted and dozens more under investigation — speaks to a deep-seated culture of abuse and retaliation at the prison and honestly, across the BOP system,” Beaty said, adding that attorneys are preparing to file a few dozen more suits in the coming months.

Four days after March 7, when the most recent lawsuits were filed, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which represents the beleaguered prison, notified the court that the BOP was replacing its leadership — the four administrators who were removed from the prison during the FBI raid. “This change is consistent with ongoing actions by the BOP leadership to enact positive changes at FCI Dublin, and in response to recent developments that were raised in post-hearing motions and in the February 27, 2024, show cause hearing,” wrote the government attorneys.

The recent developments they referenced include the prison’s illegal transfer of Rhonda Fleming from FCI Dublin during the week that federal Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers conducted a nine-hour inspection. As reported previously in Truthout, Fleming had testified during a January 2024 hearing. Two weeks later, prison staff wrote her a disciplinary ticket for allegedly having screws in her cell and transferred her to a federal prison in Los Angeles despite the judge’s order prohibiting the transfer of any of the witnesses. (The ticket was dismissed and Fleming was returned to Dublin 10 days later.)

On the same day that the U.S. Attorney’s Office submitted their memo, the entire prison was locked down for nine hours while the FBI carted away computers and boxes of documents.

A new interim warden, Deputy Regional Director N.T. McKinney, has been appointed. She is Dublin’s fourth warden since the FBI raided Garcia’s home and office in July 2021.

In an email to Truthout, BOP spokesperson Emery Nelson wrote, “Consistent with unprecedented and ongoing actions by FBOP leadership to create a positive change in the culture at FCI Dublin, recent developments have necessitated new executive employees be installed at the institution. This new team has been charged with developing a plan for the future of the facility.”

Still, Fleming does not believe that the latest change in leadership will change Dublin’s deep-seated culture of abuse and retaliation.

“No matter how many ‘new’ or ‘interim’ wardens the DOJ-BOP sends, they are all the same. All wardens had the same training, to be abusive to inmates, to lie to inmates, the court and the public,” Fleming told Truthout. “These people are retaliating against anyone that participates or cooperates in litigation against them, [or] files grievances or lawsuits.”

In December 2023, advocates filed a motion asking federal Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to appoint a special master, or independent monitor, to ensure that court-ordered changes are implemented. If she does, it would be the first time a special master has been appointed to oversee a federal prison. The judge has not yet issued a decision on that motion.

“The BOP has proven that they’re unwilling and unable to address the really deep-seated issues at this prison,” Beaty said. “There needs to be outside accountability. There needs to be an independent entity monitoring what’s happening at Dublin and to work with incarcerated people and their advocates to make changes. The BOP has had months and years of opportunities to do that and they haven’t.”

“It’s not just about Dublin or one facility,” Beaty added. “It’s about an entire system that has allowed Dublin to maintain this culture of abuse and retaliation. We know many survivors of abuse who have been transferred to other prisons, where they continue to be punished for speaking out and continue to be labeled as snitches. There’s a culture of protection of COs [correctional officers] across the BOP system.”

UPDATE: On the afternoon of Friday, March 15, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ordered a special master, or third-party monitor, to oversee mandatory changes at FCI Dublin. “The Federal Correctional Institute (“FCI”) Dublin is a dysfunctional mess. The situation can no longer be tolerated. The facility is in dire need of immediate change,” Gonzalez Rogers wrote in her ruling.” She added: “The repeated installation of BOP leadership who fail to grasp and address the situation strains credulity. The Court is compelled to intercede.”

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