LOS ANGELES - A federal correctional officer in California is now awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty to brutally sexually assaulting a woman who was in COVID quarantine.
Jose Viera, 49, of Monterey Park, entered the plea in late May before United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II. He is out on supervised released until his March 13, 2023, sentencing date, where he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Viera was a Bureau of Prisons officer assigned to work at Metropolitan Detention Center-Los Angeles, a federal prison in downtown LA that holds roughly 160,000 men and women and employs 35,000 workers who "model mainstream values."
In his plea agreement, Viera admitted that on Dec. 20, 2020, entered the cell of the woman, identified in court records as J.P., to bring her breakfast. She was in COVID-19 isolation because she had contracted the virus.
While he was there, he lay down next to her in bed, "sandwiching her between his body and the wall," court records state.
Viera touched J.P.’s breasts and pulled her shorts and underwear down.
He then proceeded to have anal sex with her, even though she told him that she did not want him to do so. The act caused her pain and soreness, court records state.
"Victim J.P. feared physical harm from defendant as it was happening," court records state. "In performing this act, defendant did so willfully, that is, the defendant knew his conduct was against the law but engaged in such conduct anyway."
Subsequent analysis of the stained sheets from J.P.'s bed revealed Viera's semen, court records state.
When federal agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General interviewed Viera, he lied, saying he never ejaculated and therefore obstructed and impeded the investigation, prosecutors wrote.
"Law enforcement officers have a duty to protect the civil rights of all Americans, and a failure to uphold this principal will be met with decisive action," United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. "Mr. Viera has admitted sexually abusing a woman while acting under the color of his law enforcement authority. His conduct undermined the integrity of our justice system and had a detrimental effect on the high-quality work typically performed by his fellow correctional officers."
The Los Angeles facility is not the only federal prison to come under scrutiny for the sexual abuse of a ward, where the current warden is Wiley Jenkins, who used to be the warden at the all-women's federal prison in Dublin.
The Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin now has the most number of officers – five, including the warden -- who have been charged sexually abusing women as it is illegal for someone in power to have any type of sex or relationship with someone who is incarcerated.
And there are prison officers across the country as well, including an indictment this spring where a former Oregon Department of Corrections nurse Tony Daniel Klein, 37, was charged with sexually assaulting a dozen female inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon’s only women’s prison.
Klein is also charged with four counts of perjury for giving false testimony during a 2019 deposition related to a federal lawsuit alleging he committed sexual misconduct while serving as a corrections nurse.
And last month in Texas, Luis Curiel, 47, a former federal correctional officer at the Carswell Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual abuse of a ward, including one woman whom he met by a staff elevator and had sex with her in a nearby stairwell.
The Department of Justice said this behavior will not be tolerated.
"No inmate should experience abuse at the hands of correctional officers," DOJ-OIG Special Agent in Charge Zachary Shroyer said in a statement. "And the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who engage in any form of abuse."
This story was reported in Oakland, Calif.