A former federal corrections officer was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for raping an inmate, who was seriously ill with COVID-19 at the time, in her cell.
US District Judge Otis D. Wright II imposed the maximum sentence on Jose Viera, 49, who admitted in May that he sexually assaulted the woman in December 2020 in the US. Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles
Viera, who worked for the US Bureau of Prisons, pleaded guilty to imprisonment under the guise of law.
The inmate, identified in court documents as JP, noticed a semen stain on her sheet after the rape. She cut that part of the sheet and kept it until she felt safe to report the assault.
“If I hadn’t 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 corrections 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 that it was Viera’s DNA on the leaf fragment.
JP was serving a 33-month prison sentence when she contracted 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 file.
Viera entered her cell, got into the bunk where she had been sleeping, ordered her to turn around to face the wall, and forced her to have anal sex, causing her excruciating pain, JP wrote in the court file. She called it “torture,” saying that he “raped and humiliated me in the worst way possible.”
Viera’s lawyer, Carlos N. Iriarte, requested a five-year prison sentence. He told the judge that Viera was a “mentally damaged individual,” scarred by three trips to Afghanistan and Iraq during nine years in the military.
“While Viera understands that his personal issues do not justify his conduct, they provide an explanation for his misplaced conduct,” Iriarte wrote in court documents.
Prosecutors argued that Viera deserved 10 years.
“When a corrections officer sexually abuses a person in his custody, the seriousness of his conduct cannot be overstated, particularly given the coercive nature of the offender-victim relationship,” they wrote in a court filing.
“The job of a corrections officer is to ensure the safety of people in custody,” the assistant district attorney said. Gen. Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Instead, the defendant’s actions did the exact opposite, destroying this woman’s sense of peace and confidence in law enforcement.”