Unequal Justice

At federal prisons across the country, guards are preying on inmates. FDC Miami is no different.

When Ross realized she was not going to get help from prison officials, she turned to federal prosecutor Rochlin, who had brought her to Miami to testify in the drug case against Dowling. In a handwritten letter to Rochlin, Ross recounted every incident involving Pollack, Jenkins, and Echevarria. "It's embarrassing, degrading, and I don't want to go through this anymore," Ross wrote. "I know I am not the only female they have done this to. I know four more besides myself."

Ross pleaded with Rochlin to help her leave the Miami prison "as soon as possible" and told her she wanted to "press charges on those officers that has (sic) violated me here." In court testimony last year, Rochlin acknowledged she received Ross's note but said she could not recall what she did about it. The Department of Justice has a policy that requires federal prosecutors to report allegations of abuse against incarcerated informants to law enforcement authorities.

On December 16, 2003, Ross was sent back to the Danbury facility. "That was their way of resolving my situation," Ross says. She decided to document her victimization to the judge who presided over her case. He passed on her correspondence to a deputy U.S. marshal named Mark McClish. A month later, McClish forwarded her complaint to the Bureau of Prisons. McClish included his own memo indicating he believed that Ross fabricated her sexual contact with the three prison guards. The prisons bureau did not investigate her complaint for more than a year.

Pat Kinsella
Pat Kinsella

Inspector general agents from the Department of Justice did not interview Ross until March 9, 2004, at which time she restated her allegations against Pollack, Jenkins, and Echevarria. Pollack was never brought in for questioning, while agents waited until 2005 to interview Jenkins and Echevarria. Both guards denied having sexual contact with Ross on March 16 of that year. The investigators ended the probe without substantiating Ross's complaint against the three guards.

Prison bureau spokeswoman Mercedes Feliciano declined to answer why it took so long for Ross's complaint to be investigated.

Had Ross's allegations been taken seriously, the prisons bureau could have prevented subsequent assaults Ross endured from a fourth guard, an ex-U.S. Marine named Damioun Cole, who had been a federal prison guard since 1997, and had been with FDC Miami since 2000.

According to his personnel record, Cole consistently rated exceptionally well in his annual evaluations. On June 21, 2001, his superior wrote: "Cole is a dedicated officer. With more exposure, he will be a great asset to the Bureau of Prisons." Two years later, Cole was lauded for displaying a "high degree of tact, diplomacy, and professionalism when dealing with inmates."

In a court deposition last year, Charles Jenkins, one of Ross's other alleged attackers, described Cole as a good person. "Cole was a jokester, you know," Jenkins testified. "He was just a person that was always smiling and laughing."

According to Ross, her first contact with Cole came during her fourth stay at the Federal Detention Center in Miami in 2004, when she was brought down to again testify against Dowling. Ross could not recall the exact dates, but she claims Cole assaulted her 12 times between March and August of that year.

The first two times, she said, he performed oral sex on her and she performed fellatio on him. By the third and fourth incidents, Cole was having vaginal and anal sex with Ross. "I felt like I had no choice," she says. "I did what I had to do."

Yet when Ross reported the assaults to prison officials, she was dismissed again. It wasn't until another inmate accused Cole of raping her that Ross's claims were taken seriously. FBI agent James Kaelin, who was investigating Cole, interviewed Ross in early 2005. She recounted for Kaelin the sexual acts Cole forced her to engage in.

On June 21, 2005, Cole was arrested and charged with sexually abusing the inmate identified in court records as B.P. The inmate had reported to FDC Miami officials that on September 25, 2004, she and Cole engaged in oral sex. Her statement was supported by another inmate, Monique Estimable, who witnessed the incident. Cole was crouched down facing B.P., who was on the bed. "I seen him," Estimable attested, "and her legs was spread open and he was between her legs. I seen him having oral sex with her."

Yet the prison's internal investigators did not forward the complaint to Kaelin until six months later. The FBI agent built enough evidence against Cole that in September 2005, the guard pleaded guilty and served one year in prison. (The light sentence is not a surprise considering just six years ago, the penalty for a prison employee sexually abusing an inmate was only a misdemeanor. Though it is now a felony, most federal prosecutors are more interested in pursuing high-profile cases.) FBI agent Kaelin, in a court deposition last year, noted he had developed sufficient probable cause to bring a separate indictment against Cole for assaulting Ross. But when Cole agreed to a plea deal, assistant U.S. attorney Alejandro Soto did not want to prosecute the prison guard for the alleged crimes against Ross, Kaelin testified.

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