OAKLAND, Calif. - On the first day of an unprecedented sex abuse trial of a former warden of the federal prison in Dublin, an incarcerated woman testified that Ray J. Garcia went from being a "sweet gentleman to pornographic" in his exchanges with her, exposing a pattern of behavior where he would flirt with women, grooming them for sex.
The former warden promised to take Melissa, whose last name was withheld in court, to Napa Valley when she was free, regularly told her how soft her skin was and showed compassion when her mother was dying in November 2019.
But then, Garcia transitioned to sexually explicit and rough language when they were together, shocking her with his change of demeanor.
Speaking calmly and methodically for most of her testimony on Monday, Melissa testified that Garcia spoke explicitly about his desires to her. Garcia routinely told her how much he wanted to "f--- me," and he showed her photos of him naked "all the time," she testified.
Her testimony was the first evidence entered into Garcia's trial in U.S. District Court in Oakland before Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, who ordered that only the jury get to see the photos discussed at trial, which will remain under seal to protect the women's dignity.
Garcia is charged with three counts of sexual abuse of a ward, four counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of false testimony to the FBI. Prosecutors argue that Garcia misused his position of power in the prison to take advantage of women who were incarcerated there. He is one of five officers charged at FCI Dublin with sex abuse and one of two to plead not guilty.
Garcia was placed on administrative leave before retiring. He was arrested in September 2021. He is the highest-ranking federal prison official arrested in more than 10 years.
Prosecutors say he took multiple photos of his penis on his prison cell phone and also took photographs of naked women while he did his rounds.
"He would always talk about his penis," Melissa said. "He had sexual fantasies and I allowed it."
Prosecutors said he digitally penetrated Melissa, fondled her breasts and forced her hand to stroke him from 2019 to 2021 in the prison bathroom and in a friend's cell room, where he had her insert a "half-eaten, sucked on" candy cane into her vagina – which she said she did to please him, even though it hurt and was embarrassing. Three of her supporters sat in the front row of the courtroom as she spoke, declining to comment further after her testimony.
On another occasion, prosecutors said Garcia took Melissa into the bathroom to grope her on the day that Prison Rape Elimination inspectors were visiting the facility.
At other times, Melissa teared up, crying when she remembered how kind Garcia was to her when her mother died, discussing their love for their sons, and his promises that he'd try to get her transferred to a better spot at the prison or released on compassionate release.
"He made me feel special," Melissa testified. "I had feelings for him. "
At some point, she also learned that Garcia was also flirting with another woman, Maria, and she was upset that not only he was cheating on her, but that the warden was manipulating another woman, which she thought wasn't right.
Maria also plans to testify.
The 55-year-old Garcia, who lives in Merced, declined comment entering and exiting the courtroom. He sat at the defense table vigorously writing notes as Melissa spoke.
His lawyer, James Reilly, told the jury his client will testify on his own behalf. He essentially boiled down the defense argument to this: Garcia didn't do it.
Reilly told the jury that there is no video evidence to prove what Melissa and five other women are expected to testify to – adding that all these women are convicted felons.
"There’s no evidence whatsoever to support the claims that these things happened," Reilly said.
Reilly did acknowledge though, that Garcia is "an extreme documentarian of his own sexual exploits," as there are dozens of photos of his penis taken on his phone that are being entered into evidence.
Kara Janssen, an attorney representing some of the victims in the case, said outside court: "His defense is of a man who has no defense."
Tess Korth, a former correctional officer at FCI Dublin, who worked under Garcia, said that none of the sexual exploits Melissa described had surprised her.
"I believe her," Korth said during a court break. "Twenty-five years in the BOP. Those guys are freaky."
The trial has raised the issue of whether security cameras should be more widespread in prisons. Advocates for cameras say they make it more difficult for guards to evade regulations.
This month, the Bureau of Prisons told KTVU that they are "planning" to install 140 new security cameras, but did not provide any more specifics.
Unlike many police officers, federal correctional officers also do not wear body cameras.
While there are some security cameras at FCI Dublin in some hallways and the visitor center, Rep. Jackie Speier sent KTVU a statement on Monday reiterating that she "continues to be concerned that the new cameras have not been installed."
"The lack of a more precise timeline on when they will be operational is a problem," Speier's email stated. "Getting the cameras up and running must be priority one."
There are also no security cameras in the women's dorm rooms or bathrooms at FCI Dublin, where the alleged sexual encounters took place – something Garcia was well aware of.
Sitting in the courtroom was Yvonne Palmore of Hayward, who has since been released from FCI Dublin. She is one of nearly 40 women who have told KTVU over the last year that they were either sexually assaulted, witnessed the assault and retaliated against for speaking out.
She told KTVU that she was beaten in the prison and when she came to, Garcia was taking photos of her naked body. She said she wants to be heard, even though she is not part of the formal charges.
"Everyone matters," she said outside court. "I matter. I want justice."
Melissa wants justice too.
She is now incarcerated at a prison in Victorville in San Bernardino County at the FBI's behest. She is serving out 15 years after getting convicted of being part of a conspiracy to a murder.
But she said life there is even worse.
Because she spoke up to the FBI about Garcia, other officers there have insinuated she is a snitch.
"It's a death sentence to report (on an officer)," Melisssa testified. "I have been tormented there. I live in fear every single day because of this. People are telling me all this is my fault. Getting sentenced to 15 years is nothing compared to his. Nobody in this room could understand the fear unless you've worn these clothes. These guards, they play God with your life."
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez