7th Guard Sentenced for Sexually Abusing Inmates at California’s ‘Rape Club’ Prison

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Even in a federal system known for chronic sexual abuse, the Alameda County facility stands out.

A former correctional officer at a federal women’s prison in Alameda County was sentenced to 72 months in prison for sexually abusing five inmates, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The low-security Federal Correctional Facility (FCI) in Dublin, California, has been plagued by scandal following a string of lawsuits and federal investigations alleging a “toxic culture” of sexual abuse and retaliation by correctional officers at all levels.

Nakie Nunley, 48, is the eighth staff member to be charged and the seventh to be sentenced so far in connection with a sweeping federal probe that has also put a former warden and chaplain behind bars for similar crimes. In addition to the five victims he admitted to sexually abusing, Nunley described engaging in sexual acts with two other inmates and lying to investigators in his plea agreement.

“Nakie Nunley egregiously exploited his authority by sexually abusing multiple incarcerated women and then retaliating against those who blew the whistle,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. “As today’s sentence shows, the Justice Department will hold accountable officials who abuse their authority to harm those they are sworn to protect — and will not tolerate retaliation against victims.”

Dubbed the “rape club” prison, the California facility is notorious, even within the scandal-plagued federal system. The Justice Department estimates Bureau of Prisons employees sexually abused female prisoners in at least two-thirds of federal prisons from 2002 to 2022.

The Justice Department referenced disturbing details of Nunley’s sexual abuse, as well as how the former officer retaliated against prisoners who complained about his conduct by threatening to have them transferred or have their jobs taken away. All of his victims worked at a call center under his supervision in conjunction with UNICOR, the trade name for prison industries.

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In 2022, former FCI Warden Ray J. Garcia was convicted by a jury of sexually abusive conduct against three female victims and sentenced to 70 months in prison; and former chaplain James Highhouse pleaded guilty to sexual assault and lying to authorities and was sentenced to 84 months in prison.

According to federal investigators, Mr. Garcia “oversaw a toxic culture” at FCI Dublin, which, along with a whistleblower report, prompted the probe into widespread sexual misconduct at the prison.

Last year, abuse survivors at FCI filed a class action lawsuit against guards and officials, alleging abuse continued even after earlier charges were filed.
The lawsuit pointed to the systemic nature of the abuse, implicating the entire Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system in which “officers at every level literally watched as other officers assaulted incarcerated people and helped to keep survivors silent through retaliation,” a lawyer representing the eight clients in the class action suit told local media.
Earlier this month, a US District judge issued a scathing order, calling the prison a “dysfunctional mess,” and appointed a special master to implement reforms.

While Judge Yvonne Gonzales-Rodgers highlighted the need for increased oversight and continuing reforms, she concluded allegations that a “sexualized environment” persists today at FCI Dublin are “exaggerated,” with most misconduct dating to Garcia’s tenure, but also dismissed the government’s assertion that it had “eradicated” the issue. “The truth is somewhere in the middle,” she wrote, pointing to ongoing retaliation against inmates as evidence that BOP “has lost the ability to manage with integrity and trust.”

The judge’s order came just days after the FBI raided the prison and BOP ousted former Warden Art Duglov amid allegations that his staff had retaliated against an inmate who testified in the class action lawsuit. Duglov is the third warden to cycle through since Garcia’s conviction.

A national problem

In 2022, the Department of Homeland Security’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing on “Sexual Abuse of Female Inmates in Federal Prisons.”

Bipartisan staff who reviewed “non-public” BOP and whistleblower documents, as well as interviews with more than two dozen senior BOP leaders, whistleblowers and survivors said the evidence led to “deeply disturbing” conclusions.

“[I]n my view,” said Subcommittee Chair Sen. Jon Ossoff in a statement, “the BOP is failing systemically to prevent, detect and address sexual abuse of prisoners by its own employees.”

The subcommittee found that employees had sexually abused female prisoners in at least two-thirds of federal prisons over the past decade, while BOP had failed to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), and to prevent, detect and stop recurring sexual abuse in at least four federal prisons, including abuse committed by senior prison officials.

In addition to the warden and chaplain convicted at FCI Dublin, the subcommittee pointed to the fact that the California prison’s PREA compliance officer was himself sexually abusing prisoners.

According to the Justice Department, there were 2,496 substantiated victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization in adult correctional facilities from 2016 to 2018, the latest period for which data is available. In 2018, there were 27,826 allegations of sexual victimization, a 14 percent increase from 2015.
Inside California’s state prison system, where data is more readily available, overall reported PREA violations rose more than 60 percent from 2022 to 2023, while specifically staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct and sexual harassment allegations increased from 2021 to 2022 (by 21 percent and 39 percent, respectively).

Given widespread fear of retaliation among survivors, “apparent apathy” by senior BOP officials, a backlog of 8,000 internal affairs cases, including hundreds of unresolved sexual abuse allegations against employees, and “severe shortcomings” in practices by the Bureau’s internal investigative units, Ossoff said, “I suspect the extent of abuse is significantly wider.”

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the subcommittee the Bureau would have to focus on curbing staff’s ability to introduce contraband, which investigators frequently identify as a crucial component of sexual abuse schemes.

“Too frequently, our investigations have identified BOP staff using contraband, including cell phones, cigarettes and drugs to groom and develop relationships with inmates and subsequently assault them,” Horowitz said.

Previous recommendations to strengthen staff search policy to deter contraband, he said, “remain open and unimplemented.”

Horowitz noted Justice’s Office of Inspector General already commits almost half of its investigative resources to BOP oversight, even though BOP employees, who currently number more than 34,000, make up around 30 percent of DOJ personnel.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons currently has around 155,752 total inmates, with 141,869 in BOP custody (the rest are in other types of facilities). Around 13,000 of them are in California.

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