Gail Fry | Contributor
Court documents obtained by The IE Voice/Black Voice News revealed on May 1, 2019, Anabel Fernandez Peralta, an inmate at the Women’s Camp, part of the Federal Correctional Complex in Victorville, filed a lawsuit against former correctional officer Apolonio Gamez and other unnamed defendants—stemming from an incident of sexual abuse committed against her at the facility.
According to the lawsuit, which refers to Peralta as Fernandez, in September 2016 and again in October 2016 witnesses reported to prison officials that Gamez was a sexual predator who placed inmates at risk. Officials had also received a complaint via a handwritten note in late September 2016 with similar allegations. The lawsuit claimed prison officials did nothing to discipline or investigate Gamez and took no action to protect the inmates despite repeated warnings.
The lawsuit claims while Fernandez worked in food services at the prison facility between November 29, 2016 and about June 28, 2017, one day Gamez caught her with food items in the storage area, accused her of stealing, and threatened to put her in the ‘hole’—a special/restricted housing area.
Because the Federal Correctional Complex in Victorville does not have a special/restricted housing area, Fernandez understood Gamez’s comments to mean he was threatening to send her away to another facility far from her family.
“You know I like you,” the suit alleges Gamez stated and continued making added sexual comments and touching her inappropriately. He purportedly instructed her to perform a sexual act on him and she complied out of fear.
Afterward, Fernandez claims she experienced symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease causing her additional distress. She subsequently became depressed and anxious which she said caused her to lose sleep. She became withdrawn, afraid to come forward fearing she would not only be sent to another facility, she also concerned officials would retaliate against her. As a result, she kept quiet and continued working in food services.
A fellow inmate noticed Fernandez’s change in behavior and approached her about it. Fernandez confided in the inmate about the sexual assault. The fellow inmate insisted and accompanied Fernandez to report the incident to an official.
Fortunately, Fernandez had retained evidence of the sexual assault on a piece of clothing. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General took the item to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a DNA test.
According to an affidavit prepared by DOJ Officer of the Inspector General, Special Agent Jennifer Serino in support of a complaint against Gamez, she and FBI Special Agent Steven Gale interviewed inmate/witnesses about the allegations of sexual abuse. During the interviews they confirmed the several reports made against Gamez as listed above.
Serino’s complaint against Gamez also noted the lack of response by prison officials to inmate complaints stating the officials were “deliberately indifferent” for allowing a known sexual predator to continue working alone with inmates.
The investigating agencies interviewed Gamez on February 26, 2018. When he was confronted with the allegations of sexual contact with female inmates, he denied having engaged in sexual acts with them.
After interviewing Gamez, the agents executed a warrant to attain a sample of his DNA. When a match was confirmed with the evidence provided by Fernandez, the agents arrested Gamez at his home in the Lake Elsinore.
On April 4, 2018, he was indicted on six felony charges, three counts for sexual abuse of a ward, one count of sexual abuse by placing a ward in fear, one count of attempted sexual abuse of a ward and one count of indecent exposure. Last October, he pled guilty to two counts of sexual abuse of a ward and one count for attempted sexual abuse of a ward.
Gamez was sentenced to a two-year prison term, ordered to pay a $5,000 special assessment, required to be on supervised release for seven years, and mandated to register as a sex offender upon release from prison.
In an interview with The IE Voice/Black Voice News, Victorville Attorney Jim Terrell expressed concern for the health and safety of all inmates housed in facilities in San Bernardino County, specifically inmates housed at the Federal Correctional Facility in Victorville, the West Valley Detention Center (county jail) and the Adelanto Detention Center, a privately operated federal prison owned and operated by the Geo Group, housing immigration detainees.
“The prison law office has been finding problems at all the jails in San Bernardino County and there is a real accountability problem,” Terrell opined explaining complaints should be completed on a computer and distributed to an outside agency and/or a citizen’s oversight committee to prevent covering up allegations of abuse.
“I bet you if we could do our own investigation into these prisons, we would find a lot more than just three victims, we would find there is more than one officer that is involved in foul play.” Terrell shared personal experiences where he received denials from officials at the West Valley Detention Center about abuses by prison guards where the FBI came up with 33 names of prisoners who alleged abuse.
“We’ve heard it has [also] been going on at the Adelanto Detention Center—we received calls of terrible horrendous rapes, but no one has ever backed it up,” Terrell shared adding, “The idea that we have just one person, just one bad apple in the barrel, I doubt that very much. The idea that we are going to let the Warden look into it and report what a bad job they are doing is [reflective of] such an arcane and broken system that is failing every day.”
Terrell spoke of prisoners, placed in vulnerable situations, living in an environment of fear in detention centers in San Bernardino County suggesting an urgent need for increased media coverage, a citizen oversight committee, a neutral investigative agency and increased transparency.
“Right now, San Bernardino County is doing so poorly in its own county jails, I think it is just an amount of time before the feds come in and start running that county jail,” Terrell voiced explaining that San Bernardino County’s West Valley Detention Center is currently under a federal consent decree.
He further alleged, “As to the federal system, it is so hush-hush over there (sic), it’s not really a prison, it’s a torture dungeon.”