Judge does not hold Bureau of Prisons in contempt of court over FCI Dublin transfer

A federal judge in Oakland on Tuesday decided against holding the Federal Bureau of Prisons in contempt of court despite the warden at the all-women's prison in Dublin transferring an incarcerated woman to Los Angeles against her orders.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said she also would not issue sanctions against Madison Mattioli, an assistant U.S. attorney representing the BOP, for saying that the transfer of Rhonda Fleming from FCI Dublin to MDC Los Angeles was OK.

During Tuesday's hearing, Mattioli apologized and said transferring Fleming was not punitive, but she realized in hindsight that she was not allowed to approve the move since Fleming testified at a special hearing about the conditions at FCI Dublin – and that the judge had specifically ordered that no one who testified be transferred.

Fleming has since returned to FCI Dublin. She is a vocal critic of the prison and has helped many other incarcerated women file grievances and legal briefs against officers. She and her lawyers suspected that she was transferred before Gonzalez Rogers visited the prison and was punished by being put in a solitary cell as retaliation for testifying in January. 

While Gonzalez Rogers said she forbade the transfer, she also remarked that she didn't feel Fleming is always truthfu and acknowledged Mattioli's admission of responsibility. 

The remarks were made at a hearing in a case brought by the California Coalition of Women Prisoners, where several incarcerated women are asking for injunctive relief.

In this case, they women are also asking for a  "special master," who could oversee over the embattled prison , where seven correctional officers, including the warden, have been charged and convicted of sex crimes. An eighth officer has been charged, but he has yet to go to trial or plead guilty. 

Gonzalez Rogers said during the hearing that she has a full docket and cannot take the time every month to visit FCI Dublin, which she did on Feb. 14 for nine hours to check things out for herself. She said having a special master would assist her with that load. She said she would issue an order in the next few weeks on her decision. 

The judge added that she was glad she made that visit because the picture isn't as dire as the plaintiffs are painting, and the cultural shift of "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse and retaliation aren't as rosy as the BOP are claiming.

"It's not as black or white as you make it," Gonzalez Rogers said. "The perspective of each side is not wholly accurate to my perspective." 

Still, Mattioli argued that the plaintiffs – women incarcerated at FCI Dublin – haven't met their burden of proof to call for such a special master. 

"Every time you've asked us to do something, we've done it," Mattioli said. "The patterns and practices there do not constitute a …violation of sexual abuse. To appoint a special master, this court has to find a constitutional violation warranting that appointment."

Mattioli said that this new paradigm shift has actually hurt the regular functions of FCI Dublin. 

The new policy is that if a correctional officer is accused of sexual misconduct, even if it's false and there is no evidence, that person is put on administrative leave. She noted that the outside investigation into their alleged wrongdoing by the U.S. Office of Inspector General often could take years, as internal FCI Dublin investigations have been nixed. 

So far, 19 employees have been put on leave this year because of various allegations, causing FCI Dublin to be severely short-staffed.  

Mattioli said in one such case, a woman alleged that a male employee touched the small of her back, and he is now on leave. 

Mattioli said she watched video of this encounter and the officer touched the woman's back for "less than two seconds" and it was because she was falling out of a forklift.

"Even false allegations are taken just as seriously," Mattioli said. "We're stuck between a rock and a hard place." 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez