The former warden of an abuse-plagued federal women’s prison known as the “rape club” goes on trial Monday, accused of molesting inmates and forcing them to pose naked in their cells. Ray Garcia, who retired after the FBI found nude photos of inmates on his government-issued phone last year, is among five workers charged with abusing inmates at the federal correctional institution in Dublin, Ca., and the first to go to trial, the Associated Press reports. Opening statements and the first witnesses are expected Monday in federal court in Oakland. Garcia, 55, has pleaded not guilty. An AP investigation in February revealed a culture of abuse and cover-up that had persisted for years at the prison, 21 miles east of Oakland. That reporting led to increased scrutiny from Congress and pledges from the federal Bureau of Prisons that it would fix problems and change the culture at the prison.
Garcia is charged with abusing three inmates between December 2019 and July 2021. Jurors could hear from as many as six women who say he groped them and told them to pose naked or in provocative clothing. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said prosecutors can call three additional accusers as witnesses, even though their allegations are not part of his indictment. Court filings indicate the defense plans to argue that Garcia took pictures of one inmate because he wanted documentation that she was breaching policy by standing around naked. The case, with shades of #MeToo behind bars, is likely to put a spotlight on the Bureau of Prisons, calling into question its handling of sexual abuse complaints from inmates against staff and the vetting process for the people it chooses to run prisons. Garcia was promoted from associate warden to warden in November 2020 while he was still abusing inmates, prosecutors say. The prison agency says it didn’t find out about the abuse until later. Garcia is the highest-ranking federal prison official arrested in more than 10 years.