Federal corrections officer pleads guilty to sexual assault of woman in custody

Officer supervised quarantining incarcerated women infected with and/or exposed to COVID-19

Federal corrections officer pleads guilty to sexual assault of woman in custody

A federal court in the Central District of California has heard the case against a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) corrections officer charged with sexual assault of a woman in custody.

Jose Viera, the 49-year-old officer, worked at a federal prison that holds male and female pre-trial detainees and persons serving custodial sentences. He was assigned to supervise quarantined incarcerated women due to COVID-19 exposure and infection.

According to court records, Viera entered the woman’s cell in December 2020. She was in COVID-19 isolation, and he brought her breakfast, as he had done in the past. He admitted that he laid down next to the woman in her bed, sandwiching her between his body and the wall. Then, he proceeded to sexually assault her, causing pain and putting her in fear of physical harm.

Read more: University of California reaches record settlement over sexual abuse case

The court noted that the woman did not consent, and his conduct violated her constitutional rights. When authorities questioned Viera about the allegations, he lied about the events.

On Tuesday, Viera pleaded guilty to one felony count of deprivation of rights under color of law for sexually assaulting a woman in custody.

“The defendant betrayed his oath to uphold the Constitution and targeted a vulnerable woman in custody,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a media release.

“[We are] committed to ensuring that those who work in federal prisons and abuse their positions of authority by sexually assaulting people in their care are held accountable. We will continue to take action against perpetrators of these sexual assaults while seeking justice for the survivors of these heinous crimes,” Clarke added.

U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, Tracy Wilkison, also heavily criticized Viera’s conduct, saying that law enforcement officers must “protect the civil rights of all Americans” and “failure to uphold this [principle] will be met with decisive action.”

“[He] has admitted inflicting sexual abuse on a woman while acting under the color of his law enforcement authority. His conduct undermined the integrity of our justice system and had a detrimental effect on the high-quality work typically performed by his fellow correctional officers,” Wilkison said.

Meanwhile, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office Kristi Johnson reminded persons in positions of authority to uphold the dignity and safety of those under their watch. “Viera used his position of authority to sexually assault a victim who was under his care and who should have felt secure in his presence,” Johnson said.

“[His] guilty plea is welcome in that Mr. Viera has taken responsibility for his actions, a move that will serve as a deterrent for such behavior by anyone in a position of power,” Johnson added.

Viera’s sentencing date has reportedly been set for March 2023. He faces a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison and three years of supervised release.

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