OAKLAND, Calif. - One by one, women incarcerated at the beleaguered Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin testified in federal court on Friday, complaining of officers groping them, taunting them, strip searching them, denying them medical care, opening their legal mail and retaliating against them for reporting wrongdoing.
The first witness, identified as SL, said that one particular officer has sexually harassed her since 2022, giving her jewelry and coming in her room to see her naked and taking her to other areas in the prison where there are no cameras. This officer has since been moved from FCI Dublin but recently showed up at her mother's home in Arizona. She ended up reporting the abuses but didn't see that anything was done about it.
She said she has felt even more scared since being part of the lawsuit against the prison.
"I see people going to the SHU every day now and I never saw that before," she testified, referring to the Special Housing Unit, often where women are sent to be disciplined.
And the new administration is not an improvement, she testified.
"It's not good there," she said. "The officers are so mean."
Another woman said she feels so unsafe at FCI Dublin that she burst out into loud sobs, testifying how unsafe she feels: "I just stay in my room, now."
And yet another witness, Roberta, testified that even if the actual number of sexual assaults are not occurring as they have in the past by correctional officers, this is the "worst by far" in terms of being mistreated since being incarcerated since 1996.
"Staff are really angry," she said. "And we are paying for it."
At the heart of this unusual three-day evidentiary hearing lies these central questions: Has the culture and behavior at FCI Dublin changed? Have sexual assaults decreased? Is retaliation for reporting abuses a thing of the past?
The Bureau of Prisons is arguing that the answer is unequivocally yes: Life at the prison has vastly improved in the last 18 months when many veteran officers were removed and a brand-new executive staff, most with less than five years experience, was brought in to replace them.
But according to the 10 women scheduled to testify Friday and at least 45 others who have sued the prison over sexual abuse, the answer is unequivocally no.
The women allege that they are strip searched and have their cells tossed much more frequently after visiting with their lawyers. Some women testified that they rarely, if ever, were strip searched in the past. And now, they are regularly told to take off their clothes and let the officers inspect them.
Another woman, identified as KD, said all her privileges, such as her phone, visiting rights and commissary, had been taken away after she reported a female officer inappropriately searched her. As a result of these punishments, KD said she refuses to report any other kind of wrongdoing at the prison, like the rampant drug use there.
"The staff are very aware of it," she said. "And they don't stop it. So why would I tell them, just to be retaliated against?"
Medications are also taken away from incarcerated women after they reported sexual abuse to superiors.
A woman named Claudia testified in Spanish that after she reported being raped by Officer Darrell "Dirty Dick" Smith – who is criminally charged with sex abuse – her legal mail has been opened, she is no longer receiving epilepsy medication and she was strip searched for about 10 minutes after meeting with a lawyer – all within the last couple months.
When she complained about having suicidal thoughts in December, Claudia aid she was sent away and told to come back "only if she was dead." One officer asked her if she was "part of that lawsuit," which made her feel ashamed and also made her realize why she was being mistreated.
"There's a lot of suffering going on there," Claudia testified. "We have lost a lot of hope."
The plaintiffs are being represented by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers must sort through the testimony and decide whether to appoint a special master over the prison to make sure that judicial orders are followed.
She could also come up with some kind of other plan to keep the abuses reported at FCI Dublin in check or do nothing at all, although it's clear from her line of questioning that she is highly critical of the prison management and has repeatedly asked the BOP to provide her with detailed evidence to prove that their strip searches were not done in retaliation; the public has yet to be privy to that information.
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Donald Murphy told KTVU that there has never been a special master in BOP history.
Earlier this week, Bureau of Prisons attorneys had witnesses testify about how much FCI Dublin has changed since June 2022. Assistant US Attorney Madison Mattioli of Montana is representing FCI Dublin, as every other federal prosecutor in Northern California has a conflict of interest in the case.
On Wednesday, Capt. Ericka Quezada told the judge how things are different now with new leadership and a total of 386 cameras now installed around the facility, which houses about 700 women incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.
She said in general that the staff are "more aware of expectations and policy" and they know if these rules are not adhered to there "will be consequences."
"My integrity matters to me," she said through tears. "I love my job. I love the good people I work with in Dublin. Coming here has been a challenge and a struggle. It wasn't an easy decision for me. But I am emotionally vested in this place."
When the judge asked her how many incarcerated women she had talked to in order to determine that the culture had changed at FCI Dublin, Quezada answered: five.
The acting warden, Patrick Deveney, also testified on Wednesday.
Following the sexual abuse conviction of the former warden, Deveney was hired at FCI Dublin in July 2022 and touted his social work background.
While Deveney admits that FCI Dublin "was in shambles" when he arrived, he assured the judge that things are now "trending upward."
"We have utilized all our resources to turn FCI Dublin around," he told the judge.
But when she asked him if he had read the declarations from 47 women who allege that they are still being retaliated against for seeking out legal counsel in their sexual abuse claims, Deveney acknowledged that he had "only glanced" at their claims – the claims which are at the heart of this current lawsuit.
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at email@example.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez