Judge considers holding FCI Dublin in 'contempt of court' when woman transferred, punished after testifying

A federal judge is considering holding the Bureau of Prison in "contempt of court" after KTVU published a story this week about a woman who was thrown in a punitive cell and then transferred away after she testified about the sexual abuses and retaliatory nature at the Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin.

In an order posted Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers told the attorneys representing the prison that they have until Saturday morning to show her why she shouldn't hold them in contempt after she learned that Rhonda Fleming was put in the Special Housing Unit, called the SHU, and then moved to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, shortly after she testified last month. 

The judge wrote that she had specifically banned any transfers of prisoners without her say-so as she contemplates whether to put a "special master" over FCI Dublin, where eight officers, including the warden, have been charged with sexual assault. Seven have so far been found guilty. 

It's not exactly clear what could come of being found in contempt of court: It could mean a fine or another type of sanction. 

Fleming, who was sentenced to 30 years of Medicare fraud in 2010, has been at FCI Dublin for years, and is looked up to as a mentor among the women there. 

She has been a vocal critic of the prison and often helps others write legal briefs and grievances. She regularly communicates with KTVU.

Fleming told KTVU in an email that she had never been put in the SHU before she had testified before the judge in January.  

She was among several women who testified that the prison's abusive nature hasn't changed, where strip searches seem to be more common and where medication seems to be withheld or taken away as punishment. 

Meanwhile, the new management at FCI Dublin countered that they've cleaned house and have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct or retaliation for speaking out. 

Gonzalez Rogers issued her order a day after she made a nine-hour surprise visit to FCI Dublin to see for herself what it's like there, according to incarcerated women who contacted KTVU and the lawyers who represent them.

Attorney Kara Janssen said she was "impressed" with the judge's diligence.

Gonzalez Rogers talked to roughly 100 women, many of them lining up to talk to her in the cafeteria and hallway. The judge visited all parts of the prison, from the punitive SHU to the camp. 

Janssen speculated that Fleming was transferred out of FCI Dublin specifically before the judge's visit. 

When asked earlier in the week why Fleming was moved, the Bureau of Prisons said in an email that "for privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not discuss the conditions of confinement for any individual in our custody."

However, in general, the BOP said it is its mission to "operate facilities that are safe, secure, and humane."

Gonzalez Rogers is still sorting through the interviews she had during her visit and the testimony she heard at last month's special evidentiary hearing before she decides 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.

It has been clear from her line of questioning, however, and now, from her current contempt of court order, that she is highly critical of the prison management.

Bureau of Prisons spokesman Donald Murphy told KTVU that there has never been a special master in BOP history. 

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 

CORRECTION: This story was updated to say that the judge is considering holding the BOP in contempt of court.