Retaliation is real, FCI Dublin prison psychologist testifies at warden sex trial
OAKLAND, Calif. - A clinical psychologist who worked at the federal prison in Dublin testified that retaliation is real at the all-women's facility and that she feared an incarcerated woman who called the warden a "bad man" would suffer ill consequences if she reported the alleged abuses within the Internal Affairs chain of command.
For the last year, KTVU has communicated with nearly 40 women who have said the same thing – they were locked in special housing units, transferred away from their families and got "shots" against their good behavior time after they spoke out about sexual and physical abuse.
But the court testimony on Wednesday codified these sentiments in U.S. District Court in Oakland under oath during the third day of trial against the former warden, Ray J. Garcia, who is charged with eight counts of sexual contact with incarcerated women and making a false statement from 2019 to 2021.
Cynthia Townsend, who was the clinical director and trauma treatment coordinator of FCI Dublin from 2011 to February, said that when an incarcerated woman named Melissa told her that Garcia was a "bad man" and she had "dirt on him," she suggested she talk to her attorney, not her.
That's because as a prison psychologist she must report what she learned to the warden, which she thought was a precarious situation because the allegations were about the warden, and she was concerned for Melissa's safety.
Townsend also knew that if Melissa reported any misconduct to Lt. Stephen Putnam, who is still in charge of investigating allegations of internal misconduct, it might not go well for her either, as Putnam and Garcia are best friends.
Putnam's name has come up several times during the trial as a barrier to women reporting abuse, such as Garcia allegedly fondling and groping them and taking photos of them naked. Garcia steadfastly maintains his innocence, saying he didn't commit the crimes and there is no video evidence to prove it.
"I was concerned about retaliation for Melissa," Townsend testified. "I didn't believe we could protect her if it were to be reported internally."
Townsend cited an example regarding another incarcerated woman who was put in the Special Housing Unit, or SHU, for 11 months because she made an allegation of staff misconduct, and after that, she was transferred away from FCI Dublin, father away from her family.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney James Reilly tried to get Townsend to say that she should have reported Melissa's statement to someone other than her supervisor. But Townsend countered that she had no real evidence to go on, and reiterated that the process of reporting abuse internally always gets reported to the warden – the very target of Melissa's allegation.
Townsend didn't know it at the time, but on Monday, Melissa testified that Garcia wooed her with compliments and promises of compassionate release, and then later digitally penetrated her, and once, told her to insert a candy cane into her vagina, which she did to please him.
She said the warden went from "sweet to pornographic" with her, and she ultimately got upset when she saw him doing the same thing with another incarcerated woman.
Melissa also testified that after she finally told her story to the FBI and was transferred to a prison in Central California, her life has become even worse because most people think she's a snitch.
A third victim of the warden's testified on Wednesday that it's impossible to report any abuse to either the prison psychologist or Putnam because there's no way of knowing if these complaints will be investigated seriously and what harm may come from these grievances.
"There is nobody to tell," she said. "I thought I would get in trouble, shipped away from my family, lose my job, commissary privileges. I had watched it happen."
This woman testified that Garcia flashed two photos of his penis to her on his cell phone, kissed her, and took naked photos of her during some of their video calls – without her knowledge or consent – when she was living at a halfway house.
She got very upset about this in court, saying she only learned of the photos when the FBI subpoenaed her to testify under duress.
Tess Korth, a former FCI Dublin unit manager who said she was forced out after reporting abuse, has been sitting in court watching every day of the trial.
She has known that retaliation is real where she had worked for 25 years, because, she too, had felt it as a whistleblower.
But she learned something new on Wednesday when an incarcerated person known to the court as S.S. said that he had seen the warden gazing up at a nearly naked woman for several minutes in her cell room. S.S. is a biological female but identifies as a man.
Korth said that officers had locked S.S. up for "months and months for no reason."
Officers "all of a sudden" transferred S.S. to another prison days before Congress members Jackie Speier, Eric Swalwell and Karen Bass came to tour Dublin in March to investigate the abuse allegations.
"Oh, so he had something on the warden. I never knew why they messed with him," Korth said of S.S.'s testimony. "Now, I know why."
In September, the new Bureau of Prisons director Colette Peters testified before a Senate Hearing on the Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons that she is aware of the abuses at FCI Dublin and that she has already made some reforms.
One of those reforms, Peters said, is reorganizing the Internal Affairs division at the prisons, including hiring 40 more employees and investigators to get rid of the backlog of complaints and redirecting those allegations straight to the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C.
Outside court, Susan Beaty, a lawyer with Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland who is representing some of the women in the case, said she didn't think having the BOP investigate was the answer either.
"We need to listen to the sex survivors," she said. "What we've heard from survivors who want community-based reporting options."
Beaty said that survivors have told her they would rather report abuses to an outside agency, nonprofit or civilian group, as three examples. She also said it's important to have a variety of reporting options such as a hotline, an ombudsperson, a counselor and other avenues. Finding a solution, Beaty said, is not one-size-fits-all, but needs to be tailored to fit the facility.
It's obvious that the reporting system has to change in some significant way because current system, Beaty said, is not working.
"The BOP has proven they are not equipped to provide a safe and fair investigation," Beaty said.
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