National News

Former Lieutenant at Jail Guilty of Abusing Inmates

Posted May 14, 2018 6:44 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — A former lieutenant at Brooklyn’s federal jail was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting five female inmates, bringing a close to a yearlong prosecution that involved two other guards at the jail and exposed a pattern of abuse at the facility, the Metropolitan Detention Center.

After three days of deliberation, a jury in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn issued a guilty verdict against the latest defendant, Eugenio Perez, 47. Perez was charged last May with forcing five female inmates at what is known as the MDC to perform oral sex on him. The attacks took place, prosecutors said, in the lieutenant’s office on the second floor of the jail, where Perez was able to monitor security cameras to avoid being caught.

In closing arguments Thursday, Nadia Shihata, one of the prosecutors in the case, said Perez called himself “Caballo” (the Spanish word for horse) and treated his victims “like they were his stable.” Shihata added that Perez often chose vulnerable women to assault — some had been subjected to disciplinary measures, others were awaiting immigration proceedings — and used those vulnerabilities against them, warning that if they spoke of the attacks there would be further repercussions.

“He knew who to pick,” Shihata said, adding, “Who’s going to believe them?”

The assaults against the women, prosecutors said, took place intermittently from 2013 to 2016 and tended to follow a pattern. Perez would request that the women — all of whom testified under aliases at his trial — be placed on work details to clean the lieutenant’s office. Then, prosecutors said, he would expose himself to them, force them into oral sex and ejaculate into paper towels he eventually disposed of.

“This case is about what we told you it was about from the beginning,” Shihata said. “Power, opportunity and abuse.”

Perez faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.

In January, another former lieutenant at the jail, Carlos Richard Martinez, was found guilty at a separate trial in Brooklyn of raping a different inmate — a young Dominican woman who was serving a drug-trafficking sentence — at least four times from December 2015 to April 2016. The third defendant in the case, a rank-and-file corrections officer, Armando Moronta, pleaded guilty in November to sexually abusing three other female inmates at the jail.

The MDC holds nearly 2,000 inmates who either are serving short sentences or are in custody awaiting trial; about 3 percent of the inmates are women. In 2016, a federal judge expressed reluctance about sending women there because, as she said at the time, its conditions made it sound like it was in “some Third World country.”

At Perez’s trial, his lawyer, Kenneth Montgomery, suggested that the women who complained about him were all lying in an effort to frame him for sexual assault. In making that argument, Montgomery pointed out several — albeit minor — discrepancies in their accounts of the attacks.

In a similar but unrelated case, a female inmate at Rikers Island, the city’s largest jail complex, has claimed in a pending federal lawsuit that she was raped four times by one guard at the Rose M. Singer Center and sexually abused by two others from September 2015 to December 2016. The Bronx district attorney’s office investigated the allegations, but none of the officers has been charged.

Sexual assault prosecutions against jail guards are fairly rare. But in her closing arguments, Shihata struck a hopeful note that in the current #MeToo moment, guards who abuse their authority would be punished.

“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,” she said. “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.”