A former California prison guard is accused of sexually assaulting at least 22 female inmates at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Fresno Bee file

After pleading no contest to a felony count in Sacramento earlier this year, a 30-year-old woman arrived at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla on March 9 to begin serving a state prison sentence for the first time.

As she was walking through the prison’s “A Yard,” she encountered a guard who asked her to pull down the N-95 mask she was wearing.

The guard was Officer Greg Rodriguez, court papers say, and he informed the inmate “that he loved her lips and eyes,” and that she was beautiful.

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This conduct continued with the woman and other inmates who passed through the yard until May 15, when the woman’s name was called over prison loudspeakers, court papers say. She was told to report to a hearing room inside offices for the Board of Parole Hearings.

A guard walked her to the offices, past video cameras recording their movements, and delivered her to Rodriguez that day. He took her into the hearing room with no cameras, court papers say.

There, Rodriguez started kissing the woman, grabbed her breasts and backside as she repeatedly demanded he stop, then forced her to perform oral sex and raped her, according to one of two federal civil rights lawsuits filed in Fresno this month.

Prison officials say 22 women may be victims

The lawsuits describe a code of silence inside the Madera County prison that allegedly allowed Rodriguez to prey upon female inmates until an investigation began and he was placed on leave, then retired.

Prison officials now say there may be more than 22 victims, based on an investigation of Rodriguez that began in July.

Rodriguez did not respond to a voice mail or text message left on a cell phone listed for him in public records Tuesday.

But Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno confirmed to The Bee that her office received the results last week of prison officials’ investigation of Rodriguez and that prosecutors are reviewing it to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

She confirmed that the allegations in the investigation involve more than two inmates, but declined to specify how many women may be involved.

“It’s pretty complicated,” Moreno said. “It’s going to take us a while to get it reviewed.”

‘Shatters the trust of the public’

After The Bee asked for a comment from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Tuesday, the agency issued a news release Wednesday morning confirming CDCR investigators had forwarded an investigation to Madera County prosecutors.

“The department resolutely condemns any staff member, especially a peace officer, who violates their oath and shatters the trust of the public,” CDCR Secretary Jeff Macomber said in a statement. “We are continuing this investigation to ensure we are rooting out any employee who does not obey the law and to seek out other victims.”

Rocklin attorney Robert Chalfant, who filed the two lawsuits on behalf of the former inmates, named the women as “Jane Doe” and “Jane Roe” in the suits and said “they are terrified of retaliation and retribution.”

The lawsuits come as federal and state officials nationwide are grappling with allegations of such assaults.

The week after Chalfant filed the two lawsuits involving Chowchilla, a U.S. Senate report on federal prisons found employees had sexually abused women inmates in at least 19 of the 29 Bureau of Prisons facilities where women were imprisoned in the last decade.

“In at least four BOP facilities, multiple women endured ongoing sexual abuse for months or years,” the report said, adding that five employees at the federal prison in Dublin – including the warden and chaplain – were indicted in connection with charges of “repeated sexual abuse of at least eight female prisoners under their supervision.”

And in July, 28 female inmates at a jail in Indiana claimed in lawsuits that they were attacked by male inmates who gained access to their wing of the jail after buying a key from a guard, media reports say.

Two inmates suing were in prison for first time

In the Chowchilla lawsuits, both women were serving prison terms for the first time after pleading no contest to felony charges out of Sacramento Superior Court, with sentences of less than a year for each, Chalfant said.

Jane Doe was the 30-year-old inmate allegedly assaulted in May, two months after she first arrived at Chowchilla, the state’s largest female-only prison with nearly 2,200 inmates.

Her lawsuit says that Rodriguez threatened her during the May 15 attack, telling her he could fabricate a rules violation report that could lengthen her prison sentence and result in her ending up in solitary confinement.

“Rodriguez grabbed Jane Doe and forced Jane Doe down to her knees to perform oral sex then he grabbed her and forced her to bend over a chair, pulled down her prison issued pants and underwear and raped her,” the lawsuit says.

Then, he warned her not to tell anyone what had happened, adding that no one would believe her, anyway, the suit says. He instructed her to tell other guards that she had been inside the hearing room for a video conference with her attorney, the suit says.

“She was afraid and felt hopeless and powerless to prevent future sexual assaults,” the suit says. “She was humiliated, embarrassed and terrified that a law enforcement officer would rape her in prison.

“She was also aware that no correctional officers came to stop Rodriguez, even though she knew officers had seen Rodriguez taking her into the Hearing Room on the live video feed.”

When she was questioned about where she had been, the woman told three other guards she had been in an attorney video meeting, despite the fact that no such visit had been scheduled, the suit says. One of the guards “looked very surprised at her response,” the suit says, and the three went behind a closed office door to talk, but never told supervisors that the woman had been alone in a room with Rodriguez “for an extended period of time.”

‘Good luck, you are going to need it’

Three days later, Jane Doe was transferred to the prison’s D yard, which the suit describes as “the most violent and restrictive housing area at Chowchilla.”

“Good luck, you are going to need it,” a guard said as she was escorted to the yard, according to the lawsuit, which says that officer “is currently on paid administrative leave for sexual misconduct with female inmates at CCWF.”

The lawsuit says the inmate’s classification level required her to be placed in a lower security area, but that Rodriguez was involved in the move “so that he could continue to use her for his own sexual gratification.”

“What can I do to keep you here?” Rodriguez once asked her, according to the lawsuit.

Between July and august, Rodriguez raped the woman four more times, the lawsuit says, and sexually assaulted her five or 10 other times.

At some point during the inmate’s incarceration, Acting Warden Michael Pallares became involved, according to the lawsuit, which names Pallares as a defendant.

“For unknown reasons, the Warden at CCWF paroled Jane Doe prior to her release date,” the lawsuit says. “After Jane Doe’s release from CCWF on August 19, 2022, the Warden personally attempted to interview Jane Doe’s former cellmate about Rodriguez’s sexual misconduct, even though Jane Doe had not filed a grievance or complaint against Rodriguez, as she was afraid of retaliation while in custody.

“Rodriguez is currently under investigation for sexually assaulting and raping multiple female inmates at CCWF. Rodriguez was placed on paid administrative leave because of the investigation and has since ‘retired.’”

Warden denounces former guard

Despite the allegations in the lawsuits about the warden, Pallares denounced Rodriguez in the CDCR statement issued Wednesday.

“Rodriguez shamefully hid behind his badge and used it to victimize a vulnerable population,” Pallares said. “That is one of the most abhorrent acts one can commit in a peace officer position and once my investigative team uncovered his wrongdoing, I referred it to the Madera County District Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution.

“We look forward to him being held accountable to the furthest extent of the law.”

Rodriguez began with CDCR in 1995 as a cadet and has been at Chowchilla since 2010, CDCR said.

“Rodriguez retired from state service effective Aug. 25, 2022, after being approached by internal affairs investigators,” the department said.

The second Chowchilla lawsuit involves “Jane Roe,” who was 20 at the time she arrived at the prison last April.

Like Jane Doe, Jane Roe’s lawsuit says she first encountered Rodriguez in the prison’s A Yard, where duties are doled out that include cleaning the Board of Parole Hearing offices.

“Immediately upon meeting Officer Rodriguez at A Yard work exchange, he began making sexually inappropriate comments, engaging in sexual harassment, and sexually assaulting and battering Jane Roe,” the lawsuit says. “For example, Officer Rodriguez would physically grab Jane Roe on her breasts and buttocks, and this happened on at least ten separate occasions.”

Guard offered cigarettes, contraband

“Officer Rodriguez would tell Jane Roe that he wanted to have sex with her and ask her for pictures of herself,” the suit says.

The suit says Rodriguez offered her contraband – cigarettes, candy and food – and that it was clear from his tone “that she needed to engage in sexual acts.”

By the time Jane Roe arrived at the prison, other inmates already had complained to supervisors “about Officer Rodriguez’s sexually harassing and assaultive behavior,” and the complaints had been forwarded to Pallares, the acting warden, the suit says.

On June 8, the inmate was summoned to the parole board hearing room, where video cameras recorded Rodriguez take her inside and close the door, the suit says.

“Officer Rodriguez informed Jane Roe that there were no cameras in the BPH Hearing Office and told her that he wanted to have sex with her,” the suit says. “Jane Roe had no romantic interest in Officer Rodriguez and told him ‘No.’

“Officer Rodriguez walked up to Jane Roe and began forcefully trying to take off her prison issued clothing. Jane Roe resisted his advances and again told him ‘No’ and asked him to ‘please stop.’ Jane Roe did not consent to being touched, grabbed and molested by Officer Rodriguez and made it clear to him that she did not consent to engaging in any sexual activity.”

Rodriguez responded by warning her that he would fabricate a rules violation report that she knew would increase her sentence by six months and expose her to further harassment, the suit says.

“Officer Rodriguez then forced Jane Roe to bend over the table in the Hearing Office, pulled down her prison issued pants and underwear and had sexual intercourse with Jane Roe,” the suit says. “While raping Jane Roe, Officer Rodriguez continually watched out the BPH window to make sure no other inmates or guards were present.”

A a child, the inmate had been the victim of sexual assault and sex trafficking, the suit says, and the prison rape “has forced her to re-live many of the traumatic memories associated with those past events.”

“Reliving these traumas has caused Jane Roe to suffer anxiety, depression, grief, embarrassment, humiliation and hopelessness,” the suit says.

Rodriguez warned the woman not to tell anyone what he had done, saying no one would believe her, the suit says.

Prison investigators have confirmed that video recordings show Rodriguez taking other women into the parole board hearing room and closing the door, the suit says, and that Rodriguez used the room “to sexually assault and/or rape multiple victims.”

“The exact number of victims is unknown at this time,” the suit says.

This story was originally published December 28, 2022 10:50 AM.