A former jail guard in New York City was convicted of a series of vile sexual assaults on female inmates and now faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
Eugenio Perez, an ex-lieutenant at Brooklyn's federal Metropolitan Detention Center, was convicted Monday of sexually abusing five women in his jail from 2013 to 2016. He's the third guard at the complex to be convicted of abusing prisoners. Prosecutors said Perez called himself "Caballo," the Spanish word for horse, and that he treated the women "like they were his stable.”
Perez “used physical force and intimidation to compel the victims to engage in various sexual acts with him, including oral sex,” according to a statement issued by Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, whose office successfully prosecuted Perez.
After abusing the women, Donoghue added, Perez used his authority over them ”to ensure that they did not report the abuse.”
During Perez’s trial, one former MDC detainee testified that Perez approached her in an area of the jail where there weren’t security cameras — his lieutenant’s office. When Perez approached, she returned his advances at first, but then he pulled out his penis.
“He just tried to like, you know, push my head down so I could suck his d--k,” the woman testified, weeping, according to the New York Post. “I felt used at that point. And I felt like I was making a mistake.”
The women, and his other accusers, identified Perez by his distinct penis, a photo of which made jurors "grimace," according to the New York Daily News.
In closing arguments against Perez, federal prosecutor Nadia Shihata argued that Perez’s power over the women in his charge allowed him to “believe he could commit these crimes with impunity” because his victims were inmates. “Who's going to believe them?” she asked.
But, she added, “It is time to let the defendant know that in our system, no one is above the law, and everyone is worthy of the law's protection. That being a prisoner, having made mistakes in your life, doesn't mean you can't be the victim of a crime, and doesn't mean that your truth is not worthy of belief.”
The federal jail where the sexual assaults occurred, the Metropolitan Detention Center, known as “MDC,” holds about 1,800 inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial or serving short sentences. A small percentage of the inmates are women.
In 2016, the National Association of Women Judges’ issued a report finding that conditions inside the jail were “unconscionable.”
One federal judge, Cheryl Pollak, even refused to send a woman who had violated her conditional release to the jail, saying “some of these conditions wouldn’t surprise me if we were dealing with a prison in Turkey or a Third World Country,” according to the New York Daily News.
Perez’s official responsibilities at MDC included training guards on the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal statute intended to reduce prison sex assaults. One guard testified that during a training session Perez referred to female detainees at the jail as “fine, meaning attractive,” according to a transcript of the trial.
Perez's abuse was part of a pattern at the jail — he was one of three guards arrested on a single day in 2017. Perez and the two other officers, Lieutenant Carlos Richard Martinez and Correction Officer Armando Moronta, were all charged with sexually abusing female inmates at MDC.
“The arrests are the result of a nearly year-long investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of female prisoners" at MDC, prosecutors said in a statement released at the time. “Following their arrests, Lieutenants Martinez and Perez will be suspended without pay; Officer Moronta was previously suspended without pay for other conduct.”
Martinez was found guilty by a jury in January of raping, four times, a young Dominican woman who was serving a drug trafficking sentence; while Moronta plead guilty in November 2017 to bribery, narcotics conspiracy and four counts of sexual abuse of a ward.
A date for Perez' sentencing has not yet been set.
[Photos: Metropolitan Detention Center by JB Nicholas; Eugenio Perez, courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office]