Over the course of eight months, KTVU has spoken with more than three dozen women who say they have been sexually assaulted or witnessed such abuse at FCI Dublin. Many who spoke up were retaliated against.
Dozens of women detail rape and retaliation at Dublin prison, real reform is questionedBy Lisa Fernandez
Published September 23, 2022 5:48AM
Updated September 25, 2022 7:34AM
KTVU FOX 2
DUBLIN, Calif. - When Marie Washington of San Diego was put into coronavirus quarantine at the Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin for six weeks, one guard in particular came by, shining a light in her cell, often asking to see her private parts.
He asked her to "do stuff" with her cellmate so that he could watch. He told her that he could enter her room at any time to have his way to "f---" the "s---" out of her.
"He would ask me…I’m sorry for my language…if my ass was real," Washington told KTVU, recalling events that occured in September 2020. "He would ask me to dance for him. He would then flirt with my bunkie as well. We were like asking him, ‘What do you want to see? And he was like, ‘F— her. Do it now.’ And so we engaged in sexual activity and immediately we stopped because we were like uncomfortable."
Sexual abuse in prison is all too common an affair – officers have been charged with sex crimes anywhere women are held in custody across the country.
But there’s no other prison in the United States where so many officers – five, including the former warden – have been charged with having sex with incarcerated women than FCI Dublin, a low-security women's prison about 40 miles east of San Francisco.
Over the last eight months, KTVU interviewed, emailed and read the testimony of more than three dozen women who are currently incarcerated at or released from FCI Dublin, where actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were housed for their roles in the college admissions scandal.
In interviews, the women described being raped, sexually assaulted, verbally threatened and retaliated against if they complained about what was going on.
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And he was like, ‘F— her. Do it now.’ And so we engaged in sexual activity and immediately we stopped because we were like uncomfortable. – Marie Washington, formerly incarcerated at FCI Dublin
Linda Chaney of Sacramento said an officer repeatedly assaulted her in the kitchen and would "rub his dikk" up against her butt. Her harassment took place from 2019 to 2021r, mostly in the kitchen area. Still, she kept quiet.
"I was afraid to speak up, because for one, I didn't want to be put in special housing," Chaney told KTVU after she had been released. "I mean, like I didn't want my room tore up, like, is just strange. Like, it just seemed like if you don't go with the flow, they're like they outcast you and treat you worser."
Shining a light on FCI Dublin There is no such thing as consensual sex in prison. It is illegal for someone who is in a supervisory or disciplinary position to have any type of sexual contact or relationship with a person in detention.
"What's unique about Dublin is not the egregiousness or the sheer scale of abuse," said Susan Beaty, supervising attorney for Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, whose nonprofit provides services for incarcerated women at FCI Dublin. "What's unique is that people are paying attention and sort of providing this opportunity to actually do something about it."
As this increased focus is now being paid to this prison that holds about 700 women, some are hoping for change.
And yet there is still ample skepticism that any real reform is really in the works.
While the possibilities for reform could exist - by changing the culture, installing cameras, implementing stricter hiring protocols and launching independent investigations – observers say they don't see much change really occurring.
In fact, in some instances, all the attention has made certain aspects of prison retribution even worse. One woman emailed KTVU from inside FCI Dublin to say that all the stories about the abuse is causing more harm for her and the other women inside the prison in terms of punishments and Draconian rules.
"I have seen since since since there's been greater media attention paid to Dublin, a crackdown on communication, it's been harder to get calls and visits," Beaty said. "We've had legal mail intercepted again and again. That's always been an issue at Dublin. But it's gotten worse. And I think part of that is an attempt to prevent the public from speaking with survivors and prevent survivors from telling their stories."
Women detail sexual abuse The women all relayed stories with similar themes: Officers cozy up to them, promise them love and special treatment until the relationship goes sour, and then they are threatened and retaliated against if they report the abuse.
- Andrea Reyes of Perris, Calif. was promised by Correctional Officer Ross Klinger that he’d marry her, and then when she found out he was having a relationship with another woman, she broke up with him – only to be threatened by him that she had to keep on having sex. Reyes also said Klinger dipped into her mental health files to use her past triggers to prey on her. She entered the relationship because she believed his promises of love. "I believed him," Reyes said. "I guess I was alone and I was vulnerable."
- M.R. said Klinger treated her the same way, bringing her Starbucks and then using her personal information to convince her into having sex. She got so depressed about this relationship that she began cutting herself, and was denied any mental health services, she said. Klinger threatened to kill her if she snitched that they were having sex.
- L.I., an immigrant from Thailand, said that Highhouse, the prison chaplain, would dry hump her and justified his sexual requests by telling her that"everyone in the Bible has sex."
- Yvonne Palmore of Hayward, Calif., said that she was once beaten up by officers for no apparent reason. When she awoke in grave pain, she said the warden was standing over her, taking pictures. To this day, she's not exactly sure what happened to her and she said she suffers deep psychological stress.
- From prison, Aimee Chavira emailed KTVU to say an officer whose nickname is "Dirty dikk" would lock her in her cell during COVID until she showed him her breasts through the door. The officer would keep coming to her cell to see if she was going to the bathroom. She would tell him to get away. And he would laugh at her and tell her he wouldn't leave until she stood up from the toilet. "He began to get aggressive and this began to scare me bad," she wrote.
- Valerie Mercadel of Long Beach, Calif., stopped an attempted rape on her at FCI Dublin nearly 30 years ago. "I was petrified," she said. She said she was treated like "a whore" by the male staff. "That's how they treated us," she said. "Like we were prostitutes." Mercadel became a pastor upon her release. To this day, she said her mental health is poor, and she can't shake the trauma of what happened to her.
- Cherie Dillon of Idaho reported to authorities that her cellmate had an illegal sexual relationship with an officer – and then she was punished for speaking up about it. Dillon said her "good time" was taken away, she lost her commissary and she had to talk on the phone to her husband while handcuffed. "I will never tell another inmate that they should go to report anything to anyone higher up," Dillon told KTVU. "Because all that's going to happen is it's going to make their life wors
And it's not just incarcerated women who witnessed or experienced the abuse.
Tess Korth, a former prison unit manager, told KTVU that she reported sexual and verbal abuses many times over her 25 years as an employee.
She said the treatment of the women was awful.
"The way they refer to them, like they were bytches," Korth said. "And those were the nicer terms they used."
Mostly, Korth said her complaints fell on deaf ears.
That is until May, when she believes her whisteblowing essentially forced her out of her job with a reassignment to another state. Instead of taking the new post, Korth retired, telling management to "shove it."
The abuse occurs because it can Dr. Terry Kupers of Berkeley, a forensic psychiatrist who testifies in prison and sexual abuse cases, said illegal and bad behavior occurs – because it can.
In this case, the abuse came from the top, with the warden himself.
"Sexual abuse in prison doesn't happen in a culture that doesn't allow it," Kupers said. "The women that are locked up in the prison have absolutely no power. The officers are in total control. And if they're sexually abused, they have no one to complain to and nobody is going to do anything. That is the perfect storm for officers abusing women."
Throwing women in solitary confinement adds another layer onto the abuse.
"Women are terrified of solitary confinement more than men are," Kupers said. "In solitary, you have no connection with other human beings. And that’s very important to women. So they dread being sent to solitary and therefore they don’t report. You can’t have women reporting to the very officers who are abusing them."
Sexual abuse in prison doesn't happen in a culture that doesn't allow it. – Forensic psychiatrist Terry Kupers
Not enough security cameras But there are also steps not being taken, which concern those like Beaty, question whether the reform is real or just lip service.
For example, Congress allotted money for FCI Dublin to install security cameras at its facility, which would serve as a deterrent for unwanted sex and could capture these acts on film.
But as of March, there were at least 28 spots in the kitchen, residences and commissary that still didn't have cameras, according to U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier's office.
Kupers said installing cameras is key.
"They're going to abuse an area of the prison that's not on surveillance camera," he said. "And that's where the abuse happens."