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US: Prison chaplain used faith and fear to abuse inmates


Behind a closed chapel workplace door inside a federal ladies’s jail in California, a chaplain compelled inmates in search of his non secular steerage to have intercourse with him — exploiting their religion and their powerlessness behind bars for his personal gratification, prosecutors mentioned.

James Theodore Highhouse, who pleaded responsible in February and is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, would inform ladies he abused on the Federal Correctional Establishment in Dublin, California, that everybody within the Bible had intercourse and that God wished them to be collectively, prosecutors mentioned.

Highhouse, an Military veteran, pressured one inmate into having intercourse with him on Veterans Day by telling her she wanted to serve her nation and on Thanksgiving by telling her she wanted to indicate her gratitude for him, prosecutors mentioned.

Prosecutors are in search of a 10-year jail sentence for Highhouse, who’s amongst 5 employees on the Bay Space lockup charged within the final 14 months with sexually abusing inmates.

In a sentencing memorandum, they implored a decide to deviate from federal pointers, which name for lower than three years in jail, and ship “a simply punishment for this notably vile conduct.”

Whereas Highhouse, 49, was charged solely with abusing one inmate, prosecutors say he engaged in predatory conduct with a minimum of six ladies from 2014 to 2019 — together with one he endorsed at a veterans hospital the place he labored earlier than becoming a member of the federal Bureau of Prisons, the place allegations had been routinely ignored.

“Highhouse ruined my life — he really did,” one inmate said in a sufferer affect assertion. “I don’t even go to Church anymore due to him. I’ve no belief within the Church and actually, I don’t belief anybody due to what he did.”

Highhouse, enabled by a toxic culture of abuse and coverups on the jail — identified to many because the “rape membership” — warned victims to not report him, telling one in every of them “nobody will consider you since you’re an inmate, and I’m a chaplain,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

On the similar time, prosecutors wrote, a jail counselor would rail about inmates “snitching” on staff, suggesting they as an alternative “inform Trump about it,” referring to then-President Donald Trump.

Highhouse’s attorneys are in search of a two-year jail sentence, the low finish of the 24 months to 30 months beneficial in federal pointers.

Of their sentencing memorandum, Highhouse’s lawyers noted that he served as an Army chaplain in Iraq and Afghanistan, is in search of remedy for post-traumatic stress dysfunction and main depressive dysfunction and spends time caring for his aged mom after his father’s dying earlier this 12 months. He has no prior prison historical past and accepts accountability for his crimes, they wrote.

“He totally regrets the ache he brought about the sufferer on this case, in addition to the opposite folks in his life,” Highhouse’s attorneys wrote, calling his actions “a grave mistake.”

Federal probation officers who performed a pre-sentence investigation and interviewed Highhouse beneficial a seven-year jail sentence, writing that Highhouse characterised his abuse as an “inappropriate relationship” and blamed his conduct on marital issues.

All sexual exercise between a jail employee and an inmate is prohibited. Correctional staff take pleasure in substantial energy over inmates, controlling each facet of their lives from mealtime to lights out, and there’s no state of affairs by which an inmate can provide consent.

Earlier this 12 months, an Associated Press investigation revealed years of sexual misconduct at FCI Dublin, together with allegations in opposition to the jail’s former warden. The AP additionally detailed steps that had been taken to maintain abuse secret, equivalent to ignoring allegations, retaliating in opposition to whistleblowers and sending prisoners to solitary confinement or different prisons for reporting abuse.

After the AP’s reporting, a job power of senior federal jail officers descended on Dublin, assembly with workers and inmates and pledging to fix problems and change the culture. On Wednesday, as Highhouse is being sentenced in federal court docket in Oakland, new federal Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters is scheduled to go to Dublin for a standing replace.

Highhouse is the primary of the 5 charged Dublin staff to achieve the sentencing section.

Enrique Chavez, a meals service foreman, is anticipated to plead responsible on Sept. 14. Ross Klinger, a recycling technician, pleaded responsible in February however has but to be sentenced.

The previous warden, Ray J. Garcia, was recently charged with abusing two additional inmates, for a complete of seven counts involving three victims. He pleaded not responsible to the preliminary fees in opposition to him and is scheduled to go on trial in November.

John Russell Bellhouse, a jail security administrator, is scheduled to face trial subsequent June.

Highhouse pleaded responsible on Feb. 23 to 2 counts of sexual abuse of a ward, two counts of abusive sexual contact and one depend of creating false statements to federal brokers.

All the fees stem from allegations Highhouse repeatedly abused a feminine prisoner over a nine-month span in 2018 and 2019.

That lady mentioned in a sufferer affect assertion that she cried herself to sleep after testifying earlier than a grand jury about Highhouse’s abuse.

“I felt so misplaced, hopeless, nugatory, and betrayal and really have no idea what to do or who to speak to about my issues,” the lady wrote.

The AP doesn’t sometimes establish individuals who say they’re victims of sexual assault except they grant permission.

Different allegations in opposition to Highhouse, beforehand stored quiet by Dublin officers, got here to mild in the course of the investigation, prosecutors mentioned.

Two inmates mentioned Highhouse claimed to them that he was a intercourse therapist, requested graphic questions on their intercourse lives and supplied to allow them to have intercourse in his workplace, prosecutors mentioned. One in all them mentioned Highhouse leered at her when she received out of the bathe and had a fame as a “predator.”

One other inmate instructed investigators that she prevented Highhouse after he made suggestive remarks throughout a counseling session, equivalent to suggesting that the commissary promote intercourse toys.

In Might, an inmate now incarcerated at one other federal jail facility reported that Highhouse raped her a number of occasions in his chapel workplace after she sought him out for counseling, prosecutors mentioned.

“He took my skill to sleep at evening and he took my skill to belief within the Church,” the inmate wrote in a sufferer affect assertion. “I might by no means return to Church. I’m continually on alert. He performed on my vulnerability and took benefit of me — I’ve nightmares.”

The inmate mentioned that she attempted to report the abuse however that when she did, a jail officer shrugged and reminded her that she would quickly be transferring out of Dublin.

“To me the BOP is an epic fail by way of the best way they deal with PREA,” the inmate wrote, referring to the federal Jail Rape Elimination Act. “The system is flawed and damaged.” ___

On Twitter, observe Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1. Ship confidential suggestions by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/.

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