Ex-correctional officer at California federal prison gets 5 years for sexually abusing inmates

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Ex-correctional officer at California federal prison gets 5 years for sexually abusing inmates

OAKLAND, Calif. — A former federal correctional officer was sentenced Friday to more than five years in prison for sexually abusing two inmates at a California women’s prison where the warden and other employees were charged with similar conduct.

A federal jury in June found John Russell Bellhouse guilty of two counts of sexual abuse and three counts of abusive sexual contact involving two women between 2019 and 2020 at FCI Dublin , about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Oakland.

He was sentenced to five years and three months in prison on Friday.

US Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey for the Northern District of California, whose office prosecuted the case, said the sentence “makes it clear that sexual abuse of inmates by guards will not be tolerated.”

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“This conduct is a disturbing departure from the expectations and requirements of all federal correctional officers,” Ramsey said in a statement Friday. “Bellhouse broke his oath and abused the power he was given, all to victimize the people he was supposed to protect.”

Bellhouse is the eighth case against correctional officers at the facility for sexual abuse crimes, according to the FBI. The former warden of the prison, Ray Garcia, was convicted in December of molesting inmates and forcing them to undress in their cells. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

An Associated Press investigation revealed a culture of abuse and cover-up that had been going on for years at the facility, prompting the Bureau of Prisons to launch new training for wardens and create special group aimed at preventing sexual abuse in the country’s federal prisons.

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A lawyer for Bellhouse, Shaffy Moeel, did not immediately return a request for comment. KTVU-TV reported that Bellhouse did not make a statement during Friday’s court proceedings.

In court documents, prosecutors wrote that Bellhouse “began to express interest in a particular female inmate and began referring to the inmate as his ‘girlfriend'” in 2020. Authorities said she was inappropriate to touch the woman and that he performed oral sex on Bellhouse twice in the prison’s security office.

All sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal.

Prosecutors said Bellhouse allowed a woman to use an office phone — a violation of Bureau of Prisons policy — and also gave her earrings. Another inmate was tasked with acting as a lookout during one of the sexual encounters, prosecutors said.

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