Documents reveal sexual abuse at California women's prison
SAN FRANCISCO - A state prison inmate incarcerated at the Central California Women's Facility was awaiting her group therapy session on Aug. 23, 2017. She stepped backward in her cell toward the door, where Correctional Officer Israel Trevino waited with waist restraints.
As he attached the chains, he reached down with both of his hands “to grope and fondle her buttocks,” according to an internal investigation that led to Trevino's firing.
The inmate, whose name was redacted in reports, angrily asked what he was doing.
“You have a big butt,” Trevino replied.
This wasn't the only time Trevino sexually abused an inmate in his custody, according to the investigation's findings.
The former correctional officer, who was responsible for escorting inmates from their cells to their appointments and to the shower, tried to pull up a woman's shirt and put his hand down her pants on an unspecified date in 2017, investigators for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found.
That inmate said Trevino squeezed her buttocks over her clothing while escorting her and tried to get her to expose her breasts and vagina.
“Come on, show me something," he pressured her, according to the records.
Trevino was investigated after an inmate complained about the groping to her prison social worker, who reported the allegation.
Prison officials fired Trevino in 2018 for sexual misconduct. He had worked at the women's prison for over a decade and had been formally warned for making sexually harassing comments to inmates, according to records from the Office of the Inspector General for California prisons.
Attempts to reach Trevino for comment were unsuccessful.
Prison system spokeswoman Dana Simas responded in a written statement that officials moved to protect incarcerated women when the 2017 allegations surfaced.
“Trevino was barred from entering the secured perimeter of the prison to prevent further inmate contact during the pendency of the investigation,” Simas wrote.
The department fired at least six male correctional officers for sexually abusing women in their custody between 2014 and 2018, according to internal records released to KQED under a new state transparency law and court filings.
Some groped the inmates, others engaged in oral sex or intercourse. The disciplinary records, which are still incomplete, provide a first-ever glimpse into how the prison system deals with sexual exploitation by its officers.
The names of the women involved are redacted in the records, and two named witnesses did not respond to requests for interviews.
While the number of dismissals for sexual misconduct are extremely rare among the roughly 26,000 correctional officers who work at California prisons, inmate advocates say sexual abuse by staff is more rampant than the records show because few officers get reported or investigated.
Amika Mota is trying to change that. She spent most of a nine-year prison sentence for vehicular manslaughter at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, north of Fresno in the Central Valley. She said she and other incarcerated women put up with sexual advances because they depended on correctional officers for access to clean laundry, phone calls, tampons, time out of their cells and other basic needs.
“There's not a bone in my body that ever felt attracted to any of these officers or felt like any of the words we spoke were true.” Mota said. “It was just this survival technique to play along.”
Officers can also write up inmates, which can result in extending a prison sentence.
One officer in her housing unit, who Mota declined to name, demanded that she write sexually explicit letters to him. She also described an officer who expected to see women without their clothes on.
“He would be really appreciative if during count we were in our bras,” she said.
Mota said she never reported any harassment, fearing retaliation.
She joined the San Francisco Bay Area-based Young Women's Freedom Center after she was released in 2015. She's now part of a new movement called Me Too Behind Bars, working to expose sexual abuse of people in prison and jail.
“What does it mean to feel constantly harassed, where they think it's consensual and we think it's not but we can't ever say it?” Mota said.
The state's inmate population includes nearly 5,000 women, about 4% of the 124,000 prisoners in the system.
State prison officials say they have been trying to improve conditions for female inmates in recent years, including enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct.
“All sexual violence, staff sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment is strictly prohibited,” prisons spokeswoman Simas wrote in an Oct. 11 email.