Prison inmates — especially those awaiting trial — cannot legally consent to sex with guards, supervisors, or anyone else who holds that much power over their lives in government custody. That should be common sense, and it's why the federal government defines sex between prison guards and inmates as rape. For that same reason, a prison guard at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in Miami was sentenced
According to court documents, Damon Coleman — a married man with children — worked the 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. shift in the women's wing of Miami's FDC, located on NE Fourth Street, a few blocks from downtown Miami's Freedom Tower and American Airlines Arena. In June 2016, he was assigned to keep watch over a woman identified only as "E.C." in court documents. The woman had recently pleaded guilty to undisclosed criminal charges and was being housed alone in a cell while she awaited sentencing.
But around 5:15 a.m. June 3, less than an hour before his shift ended, Coleman entered the victim's cell. What happened next is still a matter of dispute, but eventually, Coleman sexually abused the inmate. He was later charged with three felonies — including one count of "sexual abuse by threat" and one count of "sexual abuse by force."
"Specifically, Coleman engaged in vaginal intercourse with E.C. by having his penis make contact with E.C.'s, vulva," court documents read. "Coleman then ejaculated on the blanket on E.C.'s bed."
Coleman still maintains in court filings that everything was fine, dandy, and "completely consensual and supported by other evidence obtained by the government, including witness interviews, letters, and surveillance video." (Again, because of the power imbalance between Coleman and his victim, that's not possible, hence the criminal charges.)
Coleman says he got caught because another inmate ratted him out to his supervisors. In objections he later filed with the court, he claimed his victim sent him love letters before and after the June night in question, including asking in one letter two weeks after the assault whether he'd "forgotten about her." He also claimed the woman would "often flash her breasts" at him through her cell door.
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But once the neighboring inmate alerted prison staff about the assault, Coleman's bosses immediately interviewed the victim. They then tested her blanket, which had Coleman's DNA all over it.
"DNA testing revealed, among other things, that there was a mix of Coleman's semen and E.C.'s bodily fluids," court documents state.
In November 2016, a federal grand jury charged Coleman with three counts of sexual abuse. He agreed to a plea deal six months later, pleading guilty to a single count of "sexual abuse of a ward" and evading prosecution on the harsher charges of threatening and physical assault. Coleman still faced up to 15 years in prison but got off with a comparatively light eight months behind bars followed by eight months of house arrest and five years of probation.
The case is yet another sign that prisons across Florida — at both the federal and state levels — are rife with cases of assault and sexual abuse. Just last month, the Miami Herald published an investigation into abuse in the state juvenile detention system. Though the series, "Fight Club," centered on guards coercing teenage inmates to beat one another up by paying them in pastries, the Herald also uncovered a trove of cases in which state guards raped and sexually abused inmates across the prison system.