A sixth employee was charged with sexually abusing inmates at a federal women’s prison in California that has come under scrutiny for alleged systemic abuse, according to court documents.
Darrell Wayne Smith, a former correctional officer at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, was arrested Thursday after a grand jury indicted him on 12 counts of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual abuse and sexual abuse of a ward. The indictment alleges Smith sexually abused three women in prison cells and the prison’s laundry room between 2019 and 2021.
An attorney listed for Smith in court records declined to comment on his case.
Congress members have urged the Justice Department to investigate the prison − which has housed celebrity inmates including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin − and retaliation against staff and inmates who filed complaints or aid investigations. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters visited the prison in March as part of ongoing efforts to address sexual misconduct within the BOP, the Justice Department said.
“The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) strongly condemns all forms of sexually abusive behavior and takes seriously our duty to protect the individuals entrusted in our custody as well as maintain the safety of correctional staff and the community,” Randilee Giamusso, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, said in a statement. “We have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse of any kind and every person has the right to be safe from sexual abuse.”
Five other employees charged with sexual abuse
The prison’s former warden, Ray Garcia, was sentenced to six years in prison in March after being convicted of sexually abusive conduct against three inmates and making false statements to government agents. Garcia abused the women from 2019 through 2021 and attempted to deter his victims from reporting the abuse by boasting he could “never be fired,” according to the DOJ. Garcia was allowed to retire from his position.
James Theodore Highhouse, a former prison chaplain at the prison, was sentenced to seven years in prison in August after he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing an inmate and lying to federal agents about the abuse. Highhouse, too, tried to prevent his victim from reporting the abuse by telling her “no one would believe her because she was an inmate and he was a chaplain,” according to the Justice Department. He is appealing his sentence.
Enrique Chavez, who worked as a cook supervisor, and Ross Klinger, a recycling technician, also pleaded guilty to sexually abusing inmates. Chavez sentenced to 20 months in prison in February.
John Russell Bellhouse, a former correctional officer, was charged with sexually abusing three inmates and his trial is expected to begin in June.
Dublin prison makes changes amid scrutiny
In September 2021, before the allegations of sexual abuse were made public, an audit was conducted of the prison. The report released last year found the prison met all 45 standards, but did not exceed any standards.
Several inmates expressed concern about reporting sexual abuse for fear of retaliation, but the audit “did not find evidence of retaliation, and found that the acting warden, associate warden, SIS lieutenant, and all security, psychology, medical, and other facility staff were extremely concerned about allegations of sexual misconduct and were taking all possible actions to discover and respond to such behavior, including protecting inmate victims.”
Monitoring should occur for at least 90 days after a report, but there was no evidence that the prison did retaliation monitoring in cases where the investigation was pending, according to the audit.
Members of Congress wrote a letter last year to the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz urging him to investigate the prison and a second letter asking former Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal to indicate measures needed to “address the safety of offenders from incidents of sexual violence while in custody.”
Abraham Simmons, a public information officer for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, said the office does not plan to comment on Smith’s arrest until May 23 when he is expected to make his initial appearance in court.
Giamusso said in a statement The Bureau of Prisons has taken “assertive action” at the prison in Dublin including training on promoting a “culture of safety” and making changes in key leadership.
“The BOP is taking a very serious look at these issues across the board and understands the importance of holding those who violate the public trust accountable,” the statement said. “We continue to fully support criminal investigations and prosecutions that hold staff accountable for sexual misconduct with incarcerated persons.”
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Contributing: The Associated Press