OAKLAND, Calif. - For the first time since his arrest last fall on charges that he sexually abused three women incarcerated at FCI Dublin, former warden Ray. J. Garcia took the stand on Thursday, categorically denying that he had any inappropriate or untoward contact with anyone in his care.
After court, the fourth day of trial in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Garcia hid for two hours hoping to avoid a KTVU crew who was waiting to ask him questions.
When he finally emerged, he ran away in a parking garage, declining again to discuss what it feels like to be a former warden who might be sentenced to federal prison for up to 15 years if convicted of all eight counts.
Did you ever digitally penetrate Melissa? Did you ever ask Maria to touch your penis? Did you have touch Rachel's buttocks?
To each and every question asked of him by his own lawyer, James Reilly, Garcia answered: No sir. No sir. No sir.
Garcia denied almost everything, only admitting to the fact that he had some naked video chat photos on his personal laptop. The photos were of his third alleged victim, stating she had been "released" to a halfway house, insinuating that these photos were consensual because she was no longer behind bars.
What he failed to mention was that she was still under control of the Bureau of Prisons and if she violated the rules of her supervision, she could have been sent back to FCI Dublin.
All sexual activity between a prison worker and incarcerated people is illegal. Correctional employees enjoy power over those behind bars, controlling every aspect of their lives from mealtime to lights out, and there is no scenario in which an incarcerated person can give consent.
However, the day before, that same woman testified while she talked to the warden naked when she was in a halfway house, she had no idea he was snapping her image, and she was livid about it.
As Garcia testified, that woman's public defender shook her head in disbelief.
"He's lying," said Gloudina Robbertse of Idaho. "It's horrible what he's doing to these women."
Robbertse, who was not in court, was cellmates with an alleged victim named Kristina, who testified on Thursday that the warden instructed her to get topless and rub lotion on herself – another allegation Garcia denied.
Robbertse called herself a whistleblower of sorts while she was in FCI Dublin, reporting Garcia's behavior with many women to superiors. She was on the prosecutors' witness list, but ultimately, was not called to testify.
Garcia was first arrested in September 2021, and retired shortly thereafter. He now lives in Merced and has been out of custody since his arrest.
U.S. attorneys charged Garcia with three counts of sexual abuse of a ward, four counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of false testimony to the FBI between December 2019 and July 2021. Prosecutors argue that Garcia misused his position of power in the prison to take advantage of women who were incarcerated there.
He is one of five officers charged at FCI Dublin with sex abuse and one of two to plead not guilty. He is the first to go to trial.
He is the highest-ranking federal prison official arrested in more than 10 years.
Garcia's testimony, where he talked about his community college education, his Golden Retriever puppy and how he liked to have a clean prison, came after seven women testified that the former warden complimented them and then fondled them, asked them to undress and sometimes take pictures of them.
Some of the women testified they did not like his advances but complied because he had ultimate power over them. Others testified they liked the attention and flattery Garcia showered on them, and willingly engaged in kissing and other sexual activity because he made them feel special – until they spotted him flirting the same way with other women around the prison.
The first witness, Melissa, had the most gripping story.
She alleged Garcia digitally penetrated her several times in the bathroom. One time, she testified, she was in a friend's cell room, when Garcia gave her a half-eaten, sucked-on candy cane to insert in her vagina, which she did to please him.
As he spoke to the jury, Garcia was trying his best to appear earnest and compassionate.
He called the women "incarcerated" instead of "inmates."
He insinuated that Melissa was "troubled" and always needed to see a counselor for her problems, which he tried to get for her. He testified that he had no control over whether she got to be transferred to the prison she wanted or got compassionate release, saying those things were out of his control. He testified that he spoke to the women every day, especially at mealtimes, to make sure all their problems were addressed.
But he was also told to stop speaking so quickly several times; the judge and the prosecutors reminded him to speak more slowly even if he was nervous so the court reporter could transcribe what he was saying.
U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez has been running a no-nonsense trial, which began on Monday.
When Reilly tried to end court early on Thursday, she quipped: Get your client up on the stand, I'm not wasting any time.
Reilly has already presented his overall defense to the jury, arguing that not only did Garcia not conduct any illegal sexual behavior, but there was no video evidence to support the allegations against him.
The lack of security cameras has been a longstanding controversy at FCI Dublin, where the most officers of any prison in the United States have been charged with sex crimes.
Ed Canales, the president of the officers' union at the prison, told KTVU that the cameras are necessary to protect both the officers from false accusations and women from being preyed on.
Either way, FBI Special Agent Katherine Barclay testified on Thursday that "a lot of the allegations are from places" – such as bathrooms, changing stalls, warehouses, and dorm rooms – "where there are no cameras anyway."
There is still the question of why Garcia had hundreds of photos of his penis on his prison cell phone and photos of two incarcerated women on his personal laptop.
Garcia will answer more questions on Friday.
But in the meantime, Reilly has already conceded that his client is "an extreme documentarian of his own sexual exploits."
Reilly reiterated that point on Thursday: "It's fair to say he had a compulsive documentation of his sexual activity."
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez