Investigations at California's largest prison for women into sexual abuse and assault claims are continuing, and the acting warden who oversaw a probe that identified at least 22 potential victims has been moved out of the prison.
Acting Warden Mike Pallares, who referred the case to the Madera County district attorney for prosecution, has been accused of misconduct in two previous lawsuits and by a current inmate. He no longer works at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, where the scandal spilled into the open in late December.
"We thank him for his time and work at the institution in his acting capacity," California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee. "He is taking on Associate Warden responsibilities in CDCR."
Pallares could not be reached at two cellphones listed under his name Tuesday.
CDCR said investigators are looking into allegations of misconduct involving Pallares "and has found no evidence to sustain it. The investigation is ongoing."
He was replaced by Acting Warden Pat Vazquez on Jan. 23, Simas wrote.
One allegation stems from claims by inmate Tremaine Deon Carroll, who told The Bee in interviews that she was subjected to sexual abuse by staff at the prison. Two days after she spoke to Rocklin attorney Robert Chalfant about her claims she was placed in administrative segregation in retaliation, Carroll said.
"One staff member was harassing me on a daily basis," said Carroll, an inmate who uses a wheelchair and has been the plaintiff in a number of lawsuits against CDCR.
The claims follow revelations in December that an investigation into sexual assault allegations turned up at least 22 potential inmate victims who accused guard Greg Rodriguez of sexual misconduct.
Rodriguez, who has not responded to requests for comment, was placed on leave by CDCR and later retired. Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno has told The Bee that the matter is under investigation, although no charges have yet been filed.
Two federal civil rights lawsuits filed in December by Chalfant accuse Rodriguez of raping two inmates at the prison, and after the allegations surfaced in the lawsuits CDCR issued a statement announcing its investigation of Rodriguez.
That announcement also quoted Pallares as denouncing Rodriguez.
"Rodriguez shamefully hid behind his badge and used it to victimize a vulnerable population," Pallares said. "That is one of the most abhorrent acts one can commit in a peace officer position and once my investigative team uncovered his wrongdoing, I referred it to the Madera County District Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution.
"We look forward to him being held accountable to the furthest extent of the law."
But CDCR's announcement did not mention that Pallares by then had been the subject of two lawsuits filed in Madera County Superior Court by female workers at the prison who alleged inappropriate sexual conduct by Pallares.
One was filed in September 2021 on behalf of Jennifer Galvani, an administrative worker hired at the prison in 2015.
Galvani, who did not respond to a phone message seeking comment, alleged in her lawsuit that after she went to Pallares to complain about sexual harassment by other staffers Pallares "began demanding sex" from her.
Pallares was chief deputy warden at the time and "would frequently remind Plaintiff that he was a hiring authority and that she better not try to transfer," the lawsuit says.
The suit also alleges that "Pallares coerced Plaintiff into having sex with him while they were both at work."
"The sex was not consensual, and Plaintiff suffered physical pain stemming from the demands for sex," the suit says.
Online court records say that lawsuit was dismissed in September.
A second suit filed in August 2020 by former Warden Janel Escobedo accuses Pallares of routine sexual harassment after she took over the prison in 2017.
"Defendant Pallares frequently made unwanted sexual advances toward Plaintiff," the lawsuit states. "Defendant Pallares told Plaintiff he would leave his wife if she gave him three years, that he wanted to go away with her, and tried to kiss her.
"Plaintiff consistently responded by telling him that his wife and children would not appreciate him saying those things and that she did not want to hear them."
The suit, which is pending, alleges Pallares harassed her by "brushing his body against her legs and breasts" and that she learned he was "having affairs with subordinate employees and that it was causing problems."
Pallares denied the accusation, the lawsuit says, and in July 2019 Escobedo informed her superiors out of an abundance of caution that she was involved in a romantic relationship with a co-worker "even though no policy or procedure required such a disclosure."
In September 2019, CDCR "abruptly terminated" Escobedo after nearly 23 years of service, the suit says, while it allowed male employees to engage in affairs that "created a sexually hostile work environment with widespread sexual favoritism."
Escobedo's Fresno-based attorney, Warren Paboojian, said Escobedo later married her co-worker and that her firing stemmed from her complaints about Pallares.
"We believe its in retaliation for her complaining about him," Paboojian said. "She was terminated because of the retaliation.
"They did nothing about Pallares but they fired the warden for having a consensual relationship."
CDCR did not respond to an email inquiring about the fact that Pallares remained as acting warden after the allegations in the two lawsuits were leveled.
Instead, CDCR said it "has continuously evolved to better incorporate ways of protecting all incarcerated people against sexual misconduct, sexual violence and sexual harassment."