Over 130 women who were California prison inmates allege sex abuse

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Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse.

It was after the daily 9 p.m. head count at the California Institution for Women in Chino when she was taken out of her cell by a correctional officer she thought was her friend.

She was 21 and not even 100 pounds and the officer, who stood about 6-foot-7, was twice her size. “It was unheard of to be popped after the head count. I knew something was up,” she said. “He told me the lieutenant wanted to see me.”

But when she got to the office, it was dark. “He started to kiss me and put his tongue in my mouth,” the woman said, recalling the 2014 incident. The Times is not naming her as she is a sex crime victim. “He put his hand in my pants. I tried to pull back, but he was persistent. Then he put his fingers inside me.” The next day, she said, he acted as if nothing had happened.

The woman is one of 130 former inmates at California’s women’s prisons at Chino and Chowchilla, suing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and more than 30 current and ex-correctional officers who they say abused them in prison. They are seeking unspecified damages for sexual assault, battery, negligence, infliction of emotional distress and violations of civil rights.

Correctional officers at the California Institution for Women in Chino and Central California Women’s Facility committed widespread sexual abuse against the female detainees whom they guarded, according to a lawsuit filed last month. In many cases, the officers targeted and allegedly isolated the inmates and forced them to perform sexual acts, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit documents graphic incidents of sexual abuse stretching back a decade and reveals that the women, when they were at their most vulnerable, were punished and sometimes the victim of further abuse and punitive actions if they reported their assailants.

“Every woman’s worst nightmare is being locked inside a facility filled with sexual predators with no means of escape,” said Doug Rochen, an attorney at ACTS Law who is representing the women. “And that’s exactly what each of these women, and likely thousands more, were subjected to for decades. California paid no attention to their well-being, left them to suffer at the hands of the worst kinds of sexual deviants, and made them relive their pain daily while being locked behind bars.”

The lawsuit accused one sergeant at the Chino prison of more than 40 rapes — incidents of violence that often caused bleeding — and sexual misconduct involving a female inmate in 2015. Out of fear of retaliation and further confinement, one plaintiff, identified only as Jane CL-1 25 Roe, never reported the sexual misconduct, assuming the complaints would be “unanswered, dismissed, ignored, and buried without investigation or redress, thereby allowing the sexual misconduct to continue.”

One of the women is a victim of an accused serial-rapist correctional officer, Gregory Rodriguez, who is charged with 96 counts of sex crimes involving nearly a dozen women at the Chowchilla prison during his tenure, the lawsuit alleges. The 27-year-old woman in 2014 was allegedly forced to perform oral sex acts on the guard at a time she was pregnant, according to the lawsuit.

Another woman alleges she was sexually abused by then-correctional officer Israel Trevino in 2014 when she was 25. Trevino was terminated in 2018 after other allegations of sexual abuse. Several pending lawsuits accuse Trevino of abusing numerous victims. Trevino has since died.

That same former inmate, identified as Jane MS0 8 Roe, alleges she was also victimized by two other correctional officers, one who groped her and another who groped her and penetrated her vagina, according to the lawsuit.

Sexual abuse would occur in areas throughout the prisons, including cells, closets and storage rooms, the lawsuit alleges. In one alleged victim’s case, she was sexually abused in a cleaning supplies cupboard five times and eventually reported it to another correctional officer, who declined to take action. Rochen said it was part of a pattern of prison officials who systematically ignored complaints of sexual abuse.

California prison officials didn’t reply to a request for comment on the litigation.

Sexual abuse of incarcerated women is a widespread problem in facilities nationwide, with government surveys suggesting that more than 3,500 women are sexually abused by prison and jail workers annually.

In addition to the sexual misconduct by prison workers, the lawsuit alleged the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had inadequate hiring practices, procedures and training to prevent the sexual abuse and conduct.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series targeting sexual abuse in California’s female prisons. Last summer, another law firm filed litigation involving more than 100 other plaintiffs, including victims of Rodriguez.

State law gives victims of sexual assault by police and correctional officers up to 10 years after their assailants have been convicted of sexual assault or a crime in which sexual assault was initially alleged to sue. Victims can also sue up to 10 years after their assailants left the law enforcement agency they were working at when the assault occurred.

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