OAKLAND, Calif. -- A former federal correctional officer was convicted Monday of sexually abusing two inmates at a women’s prison in California where the warden and other employees were charged with similar conduct.
A jury found the officer, John Russell Bellhouse, guilty on five counts of sexual abuse for incidents involving the two women between 2019 and 2020 at FCI Dublin, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Oakland.
Bellhouse, 40, was scheduled to be sentenced in August.
“My clients feel heard,” Jessica Pride, an attorney for the victims, told KTVU-TV. “Regardless of a prisoner’s crime, sexual assault is not part of their punishment."
Prosecutors alleged in court documents that Bellhouse “began to express an interest in a particular female inmate and started calling the inmate his ‘girlfriend’” in 2020. Authorities said he inappropriately touched the woman and that she performed oral sex on Bellhouse twice in the prison’s safety office.
All sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal.
Prosecutors said Bellhouse allowed one woman to use an office phone — a violation of Bureau of Prisons policy — and also gave her earrings. Another inmate was tasked to act like a lookout during at least one of the sexual encounters, prosecutors said.
An attorney for Bellhouse, Shaffy Moeel, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Bellhouse is the sixth employee at the prison to be charged with sexually abusing inmates. The prison’s former warden, Ray Garcia, was convicted in December of molesting inmates and forcing them to pose naked in their cells. He was sentenced to serve six years in prison.
An Associated Press investigation revealed a culture of abuse and cover-up that had persisted for years at the facility.
Since the AP's investigation, the Bureau of Prisons launched new training for prison wardens and created specialized teams aimed at curtailing sexual abuse at the nation’s federal prisons.