Nassau inmate sex abuse trial opens

Former corrections officer Mark Barber at the Nassau

Former corrections officer Mark Barber at the Nassau County Court in Mineola. (July 23, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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As a grievance officer at the Nassau County jail, Mark Barber was in a unique position to get female inmates alone and take advantage of them sexually, a Nassau prosecutor said Monday.

Barber, 50, of Levittown, made arrangements so he could be alone with six female inmates at various times between 2007 and 2009, then asked them for sex in exchange for items they wanted, like cigarettes and phone privileges, prosecutor Bernadette Ford said in her opening statement in Barber's trial on rape and sexual abuse charges.

"These were inmates with issues," said Ford, referring to the women's histories involving drugs, prostitution and theft. "That made them harder to believe should they report the crimes."

In one case, Barber arranged for a female inmate to join a work crew cleaning the jail chapel, then used the opportunity to get her alone in a restroom and ask for oral sex, Ford said.

She said that although the women agreed to have sexual contact with Barber, under the law, all sexual contact between inmates and correction officers is illegal -- even if it is consensual.

Barber faces up to eight years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said. Barber, who had worked for the Nassau County Sheriff's Department since 1987, was arrested in December 2009 on charges that include rape, official misconduct, forcible touching and promoting prison contraband.

Barber's defense lawyer, Edward Galison of Mineola, said in his opening statement that the inmates and former inmates who will testify against him are not reliable: Many have been convicted of drug, prostitution and theft charges and five of them have filed a $10 million lawsuit against Barber, so they stand to benefit from his conviction.

"Wait till you hear what went on with these women," Galison said.

The lawsuit says Barber usually began by flirting with the women, then coerced them into doing sexual favors for him by making them feel vulnerable and fearful.

According to the lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court in Mineola, one of the women became pregnant after Barber raped her. The pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, the lawsuit says.

Barber's trial could take up to five weeks, Judge Norman St. George told jurors.

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