National News

Trial Begins in Brooklyn of Jail Guard Accused of Raping Female Inmate

Posted January 8, 2018 3:59 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — In the past few months, the #MeToo movement has broken down walls of traditional male bastions in Hollywood, the news media and Washington. Now, a criminal trial in Brooklyn is poised to expose a world where activists have not yet gone — the one behind bars.

This week, a former lieutenant at the Metropolitan Detention Center, the federal jail in Brooklyn, will go on trial, accused of using his position of authority to repeatedly rape a female inmate in his charge. At least five times from December 2015 to April 2016, prosecutors say, the defendant, Carlos Richard Martinez, assaulted the woman while she was on an assignment to clean an office in the jail. To ensure no one walked in during the attack, he watched a feed from a security camera outside the office, prosecutors say.

The trial, which began Monday with jury selection in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, comes eight months after Martinez, 48, was charged in a federal indictment that brought to a head one of the largest sexual assault investigations to confront the federal Bureau of Prisons in at least a decade. The indictment also named another lieutenant at the jail, Eugenio Perez, who is awaiting trial, and a rank-and-file corrections officer, Armando Moronta, who pleaded guilty in November to sexually abusing three female inmates.

The charges against all three men cast the jail, often known as the MDC, in a particularly troubling light. The MDC holds about 1,800 inmates, only about 3 percent of whom are women. In 2016, a federal judge expressed reluctance about sending women there because, as she put it at the time, its conditions made it sound like it was in “some Third World country.”

The alleged victim in Martinez’s case — a Dominican woman in her 20s who was being held on a drug trafficking charge — is scheduled to testify at trial and will likely tell the jury, prosecutors say, how the abuse began with sexually explicit comments, but quickly escalated into a series of rapes that took place in a deserted office late at night on weekends when she was directed to leave her dormitory on cleaning duty. During the attacks, the woman is expected to say, Martinez forced to her have sex, usually while she was lying facedown on a desk and he was watching surveillance footage of the area on a desktop computer.

Throughout this time, prosecutors say, Martinez made it clear to the woman that he “knew details about her familial circumstances.” According to court papers, when she placed a phone call to a friend and mentioned Martinez’s name, he angrily confronted her and threatened her with punishment, advising her to lie to investigators if she was ever questioned about the rapes.

Last month, Judge Brian M. Cogan, who oversaw the pretrial portion of the case, decided that the woman could testify under the alias “Maria,” ruling that revealing her identity would likely cause her “anxiety” and “social stigma,” and could “chill the willingness of other alleged victims of sex crimes to come forward.”

The government is expected to introduce four other key witnesses: Three of them, court papers say, were — or are — inmates at the MDC; the fourth, the papers say, was a jail employee who had an affair with Martinez and often had sex with him in the same part of the jail where the rapes were said to have occurred.

In their own court papers, lawyers for Martinez, a retired Marine, have sought to paint their client as a respected jail guard and supervisor who, as they wrote, “led a model existence for the vast majority of his life.” Martinez has worked as a lieutenant at the MDC for more than 20 years, they said, and was among those who responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That same year, the lawyers said, he was recognized for having saved the driver of a truck that plunged over the edge of an elevated section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway near the jail.

But prosecutors say Maria was not Martinez’s only victim. In court filings, they alleged that a different female inmate at the jail accused him of rape in 1995, though he was never charged in that case. The prosecutors also said that in 2016, Martinez was involved in a road rage episode with a female motorist in which he punched the woman twice in the face.

“This sustained course of conduct,” they wrote, “demonstrates the defendant’s dangerousness, his willingness to use violence and aggression toward vulnerable victims, including individuals under his supervision and charge.”