LA Prison Guard Who Raped Female Inmate in Her Cell While She was in COVID-19 Isolation Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

Metropolitan Detention Center
Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. Twitter

A former federal corrections officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for raping an inmate, who was severely ill with COVID-19 at the time, in her cell.

U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II imposed the maximum penalty on Jose Viera, 49, who admitted in May that he sexually assaulted the woman in December 2020 at the U.S. Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A.

Inmate Saved Semen Stain After Rape to Report Viera

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Viera, who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law.

The inmate, identified in court filings only as J.P., noticed a semen stain on her sheet after the rape. She cut off that part of the sheet and saved it until she felt safe to report the assault.

"Had I not had that evidence, I wouldn't have wasted my time reporting anything, because I would have known it would be his word against mine, and [Viera] was a sworn-in correction officer at the time, and I was just a criminally convicted felon," she wrote in a six-page victim impact statement to the judge.

"They would have taken his word over mine, for sure," she added. Investigators later confirmed it was Viera's DNA on the sheet fragment.

Viera Groped Inmate's Breasts, Forced Her to Have Anal Sex

J.P. was serving a 33-month term at the prison when she caught COVID-19 and was isolated in a quarantine unit. On December 20, 2020, the day she was raped, she was struggling to breathe and had a high fever, sore throat, headache and body aches, according to her court filing.

Viera, who would bring the victim her breakfast every morning, walked into her cell, got into the bunk where she'd been sleeping. He then ordered her to turn around and face the wall, groped her breasts and pulled down her underwear. Viera then forced her to have anal sex, causing her excruciating pain, J.P. wrote in the court filing. She called it "torture," saying he "violated and humiliated me in the worst way possible."

During an investigation, conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General, Viera also lied to federal agents about the sexual assault allegations.

Viera's Attorney Urged for Lenient Sentence, Claiming His Client was Scarred by Tours in Afghanistan, Iraq

Viera's attorney, Carlos N. Iriarte, requested a prison term of five years. He told the judge that Viera was a "mentally damaged individual," scarred by three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq during nine years in the Army.

"While Viera understands that his personal issues do not excuse his conduct, they provide an explanation as for his out of character conduct," Iriarte wrote in court papers. However, prosecutors argued that Viera deserved a 10-year prison sentence.

"When a corrections officer sexually abuses an individual in his custody, the gravity of his conduct cannot be overstated, particularly because of the coercive nature of the relationship between the offender and the victim," they wrote in a court filing.

"A corrections officer's job is to ensure the safety and security of those in custody," said Assistant Atty. Gen. Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "Instead, the defendant's actions did just the opposite, destroying this woman's sense of peace and trust in law enforcement."