A former federal corrections officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for raping an inmate, who was severely ill with COVID-19 at the time, in her cell.
U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II imposed the maximum penalty on Jose Viera, 49, who admitted in May that he sexually assaulted the woman in December 2020 at the U.S. Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A.
Viera, who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law.
The inmate, identified in court filings as J.P., noticed a semen stain on her sheet after the rape. She cut off that part of the sheet and saved it until she felt safe to report the assault.
“Had I not had that evidence, I wouldn’t have wasted my time reporting anything, because I would have known it would be his word against mine, and [Viera] was a sworn-in correction officer at the time, and I was just a criminally convicted felon,” she wrote in a six-page victim impact statement to the judge. “They would have taken his word over mine, for sure.”
Investigators confirmed it was Viera’s DNA on the sheet fragment.
J.P. was serving a 33-month term at the prison when she caught COVID-19 and was isolated in a quarantine unit. The day she was raped, she was struggling to breathe and had a high fever, sore throat, headache and body aches, according to her court filing.
Viera walked into her cell, got into the bunk where she’d been sleeping, ordered her to turn around to face the wall and forced her to have anal sex, causing her excruciating pain, J.P. wrote in the court filing. She called it “torture,” saying he “violated and humiliated me in the worst way possible.”
Viera’s attorney, Carlos N. Iriarte, requested a prison term of five years. He told the judge that Viera was a “mentally damaged individual,” scarred by three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq during nine years in the Army.
“While Viera understands that his personal issues do not excuse his conduct, they provide an explanation as for his out of character conduct,” Iriarte wrote in court papers.
Prosecutors argued that Viera deserved 10 years.
“When a corrections officer sexually abuses an individual in his custody, the gravity of his conduct cannot be overstated, particularly because of the coercive nature of the relationship between the offender and the victim,” they wrote in a court filing.
“A corrections officer’s job is to ensure the safety and security of those in custody,” said Assistant Atty. Gen. Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Instead, the defendant’s actions did just the opposite, destroying this woman’s sense of peace and trust in law enforcement.”
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