OAKLAND, Calif. - Taking the stand on his own behalf, former FCI Dublin Warden Ray J. Garcia tried to explain why he had photos of a naked incarcerated woman on all fours in a cell room on his personal laptop.
Speaking in excruciating detail in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Garcia told the jury on Friday that the reason he had two images of a woman named Melissa on his computer because he accidentally took them in 2020, mistakenly believing that she had been involved in sneaking some drugs in the room because the window had been partially covered.
He said he took out his camera and took a picture of what he thought would be a contraband bust only to find that Melissa was naked on a friend's bed on all fours.
"I took an immediate picture without even focusing on what I was taking a picture of," Garcia said, adding that he immediately told her to get dressed.
He then took a second photo, he testified, so he could later crop out his reflection out of the photo – both of which the FBI found on his personal laptop computer, which he said was using because the Bureau of Prisons never gave him a work one.
He also testified he took the second photo to document that Melissa shouldn't have been naked in a friend's room at that time of day because it was "prohibited behavior," and he kept the photo because he was going to write up an incident report about her – which he never ended up turning in.
Garcia maintained his earnest Boy Scout demeanor while testifying before his own lawyer.
But that tone vanished under cross-examination by Asst. U.S. Attorney Mollie Priedeman, who repeatedly hammered him as to how incredulous his tale was and why he didn't allow Melissa change into clothes for the second naked photo of her.
He appeared testy and overly defensive in his answers, his voice rising when being peppered by Priedeman's questions, such as you took that photo of Melissa to arouse you, didn't you?
"I have plenty of pictures I can use for arousal of free women I can see any day of the week," he said angrily under cross. "I do not need a picture of an inmate to arouse me."
Garcia's story – told on the fifth day of his sex abuse trial where he is charged with eight counts of sex abuse and sexual contact – is in direct contrast to what Melissa testified to before Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers.
Garcia is one of five correctional officers at this prison to face sex abuse charges. He is the first to go to trial and is the highest ranking federal prison official to be arrested in 10 years.
On Monday, Melissa testified that Garcia was often sweet with her, until his behavior became pornographic on at least four occasions from 2019 to 2021. She testified that he fondled her, digitally penetrated her, and once, when she was in her friend's cell room, told her to insert a half-eaten candy cane he gave her into her vagina, which she did to please him, even though it stung and he embarrassed her.
She was naked on all fours, she testified, because Garcia told her too.
It's impossible to tell what the jury was thinking as Garcia explained his side and denying all allegations that he ever touched any woman at any time inappropriately at the prison between 2019 and 2021, the years for which he was charged.
He spoke earnestly, albeit quickly, answering most questions asked by his defense attorney, James Reilly, with a respectful "No sir."
But people sitting in the gallery – attorneys representing the sexual survivors, the FBI and the BOP – were seen shaking their heads and disbelief, and even a few quiet chuckles were heard. No visible supporters for Garcia have attended the trial.
Outside court, Tess Korth, who worked at FCI Dublin for 25 years until she was forced out for being a whistleblower, told KTVU that her former boss's testimony was "bullshit."
"Does he think we're stupid?" she asked incredulously. "His explanation is unbelievable. Today, he made a mistake. Hopefully, the jury will see that too."
To Korth, it seemed implausible that Garcia accidentally took a photo of a "woman on all fours naked, and then took a second photo for an incident report that he never reported."
She said that "anyone who knows Garcia would know he wouldn't have made that accidental mistake."
As for the four naked photos of another woman named Rachel he had on his personal laptop, Garcia also offered a detailed, if not longwinded, story about how he had given her a Gmail account to contact him, and then used a burner phone to communicate with him when she was released to a halfway house in Alaska.
Garcia testified that Rachel wanted to complain about the halfway house, but not do it in writing, which is why he went off the books for communication.
The reason he had her naked photos, he testified, was that she sent him the pictures after the two had video phone sex, which he didn't fully explain, especially since he was adamant he had no physical or romantic relations with her while she was incarcerated at FCI Dublin.
Again, Garcia's testimony was in direct contrast to what Rachel testified to earlier this week.
She testified that Garcia flashed two photos of his penis to her on his cell phone and kissed her, while she was incarcerated – all of which he flatly denied.
When she was released to a halfway house, Rachel said she kept up the relationship with Garcia because she liked the attention.
He bought a burner phone, she testified, for their sex chats in October 2021 via video. But she was livid when she found out that he had taken photos of sex without her consent or knowledge. She made it clear that she did not want to be testifying at all because of the harm and trouble it would bring her, testifying against the former warden.
At this point in the trial, Garcia has not explained how he went from a "no contact" relationship with Rachel, to one where he would have video sex with her upon her release.
He also has not yet fully explained why he had hundreds of photos of his penis on his prison phone, other than his lawyer telling the jury that Garcia has a "compulsive" habit to document his genitalia and sexual exploits. He testified that the photos were of himself and sent to various girlfriends and his significant other.
He said that he always deleted these photos within 24 hours, insinuating that the FBI retrieved them through forensic imaging.
Outside court, Central Legal de La Raza attorney Susan Beaty, who is representing women incarcerated at FCI Dublin, told KTVU that the women who have testified against Garcia have done so at great risk to themselves because of the retaliation inside the prison for reporting officer abuses.
"I believe the survivors," she said. "And the dozens of other people who have also corroborated those stories. This vilifying the survivors is despicable."
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