A corrections officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually assaulting a woman who was in custody at a downtown Los Angeles prison in December 2020.
Jose Viera, 49 of Monterey Park, pleaded guilty in federal court to one felony count of deprivation of rights under color of law, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.
Viera was a Federal Bureau of Prisons corrections officer assigned to work at Metropolitan Detention Center-Los Angeles, a federal prison that holds male and female pre-trial detainees and people serving custodial sentences. He was required to uphold the Constitution and ensure the safety and security of persons housed at the detention center, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Viera was placed on administrative leave in March.
He admitted that in December 2020 he was assigned to supervise incarcerated women who were quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure and infection. On the morning of Dec. 20, Viera entered the cell of the victim, who was in COVID-19 isolation, as he had done on previous occasions to bring her breakfast.
“Instead, Viera admitted that he laid down next to the victim in her bed, sandwiching her between his body and the wall,” the news release states. “Then, he sexually assaulted the victim, causing her pain and putting her in fear of physical harm.”
Viera committed the assault despite knowing that the victim did not consent and that his actions violated her constitutional rights, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
When the FBI and the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General conducted a voluntary interview of Viera about the sexual assault allegations, he lied to federal agents about his misconduct, officials said.
“Law enforcement officers have a duty to protect the civil rights of all Americans, and a failure to uphold this principal will be met with decisive action,” U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in written statement. “Mr. Viera has admitted sexually abusing a woman while acting under the color of his law enforcement authority. His conduct undermined the integrity of our justice system and had a detrimental effect on the high-quality work typically performed by his fellow correctional officers.”
A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 13, 2023, at which time Viera will face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
“Mr. Viera used his position of authority to sexually assault a victim who was under his care and who should have felt secure in his presence,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Kristi K. Johnson said. “Today’s guilty plea is welcome in that Mr. Viera has taken responsibility for his actions, a move that will serve as a deterrent for such behavior by anyone in a position of power within prison walls.”
This case was investigated by the L.A. field offices of the FBI and the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General.