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Ex-New Mexico prison transport officer pleads guilty to sexually assaulting pretrial detainees

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A former private prisoner transport officer in New Mexico has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting multiple female pretrial detainees during prisoner transports, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Marquet Johnson, 44, raped two women and forced another to perform oral sex on him from July to November 2019, according to a news release from the Justice Department. He pleaded guilty Monday to violating the civil rights of the detainees by sexually assaulting them, the department said.

Johnson faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, followed by up to five years of supervised release. He also must pay restitution to the victims and upon release, comply with state and federal sex offender registration requirements.

“Sexual assaults carried out by law enforcement officials at any stage of the criminal justice process, including in the transport of detainees held in custody, have no place in our society,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in the release. “This egregious conduct violates federal civil rights law, and the Justice Department will continue to resolutely seek justice for the survivors of these heinous crimes.”

The sexual victimization of adult inmates is an ongoing problem in jails and prisons across the United States. While sexual misconduct in the prison system is underreported, a special report the Justice Department released earlier this year recorded thousands of victims of inmate-on-inmate abuse and staff-on-inmate abuse from 2016 to 2018.

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Justice Department: Victims did not consent to any sexual conduct

Johnson worked as a prisoner transport officer for Inmate Services Corporation at the time of the assaults, according to the plea agreement. He picked up individuals who were arrested on out-of-state warrants and transported those individuals back to the jurisdictions that issued the warrants, the Justice Department said.

In July 2019, the Justice Department said Johnson was transporting a detainee from Spencer, Indiana, to San Marcos, Texas, when he forced the detainee to perform oral sex on him. Johnson admitted the assault occurred during a stop at the ISC headquarters in West Memphis, Arkansas.

The second assault happened in August 2019 when he was transporting a detainee from Baker County, Oregon, to Warrensburg, Missouri, according to the Justice Department. Johnson said he raped the victim while the transport van was stopped at a hotel and later forced her to perform oral sex on him.

His third victim was another detainee who was being transported from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Delta County, Colorado. After Johnson’s transport partner had stopped for gas and walked away from their van, the Justice Department said Johnson removed the victim’s ankle restraints, loosened her handcuffs, and then ordered the victim to partially remove her clothing and lay down on her back.

The victim repeatedly told Johnson that she did not want “to do this,” according to the Justice Department. But Johnson had pulled out a “dangerous weapon” and told the victim that he wanted her to cooperate with him, “otherwise, it was going to get ugly,” the Justice Department said.

Johnson admitted to authorities that none of the victims gave consent to any sexual conduct.

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Sex abuse within federal prison system

The Justice Department’s special report released in January found that staff sexual misconduct was underreported by inmates. Only about a quarter of incidents were reported by the victim, according to the report, and nearly 20% of the substantiated incidents were revealed through investigation or monitoring.

Prison and jail staff are rarely held legally accountable for “substantiated” incidents, or incidents that were investigated and found to be based on a preponderance of evidence, according to a 2021 Department of Justice report using data from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

For substantiated and reported incidents, the report found that only about 38% of staffers faced any legal action.

The federal prison system has faced widespread criticism after multiple incidents of staff sexual misconduct were revealed in recent years, including repeated incidents of inmate sexual abuse at a high-profile and all-female prison in Dublin, California.

In December 2022, a jury found the former warden Ray J. Garcia guilty of seven counts of sexual abuse. Other employees have also since been charged with similar conduct.

A former federal correctional officer was sentenced on Dec. 1 to more than five years in prison for sexually abusing two inmates at the prison. This was the eighth case against the facility’s correctional officers for sexual abuse crimes, according to the FBI.

Contributing: Tami Abdollah and Anthony Robledo, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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