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Ex-Hernando County jail psychiatrist sued, faces new accusation

BROOKSVILLE — Two women who allegedly were molested by a psychiatrist while they were inmates at the Hernando County jail have filed a lawsuit against the doctor and his former employer, and one of the women has lodged a new accusation against him.

In March, the Florida surgeon general restricted Dr. James A. Yelton Rossello's license after four female inmates alleged that between November 2009 and August 2010 the doctor asked that they expose themselves, give him lap dances or kisses and implied he would trade medication for sex. Corrections Corporation of America, which operated the Hernando jail and employed Yelton, fired him.

In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday, one of the women says Yelton digitally penetrated her after he asked that she pull down her pants during a therapy session. Prosecutor Brian Trehy has previously said that due to a complex Florida statute, the state couldn't charge Yelton, 54, with sexual misconduct because none of the inmates claimed he had penetrated them.

After learning of the new allegation, Trehy said, "It's worthy of exploration. I'm willing to consider what she has to say."

However, he said, because she didn't say anything when the alleged attack first occurred, it might make a criminal charge difficult to prosecute.

Yelton's Gainesville attorney, Jesse Smith, said his client still denies the claims. Smith said he is negotiating a settlement with the Florida Department of Health that could allow Yelton to be freely practicing again by late summer. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The suit seeks damages in excess of $15,000 from Yelton and CCA, which for 22 years was contracted to run the jail until the county took control of it in August. The complaint says Yelton battered one woman and sexually battered the other, and it accuses Corrections Corporation of negligent hiring, training and supervision.

"The main goal is obviously to stop him from going after inmates anymore," said the women's attorney, Samuel Rogatinsky of Fort Lauderdale. "This man can't treat women."

The Times interviewed the women Wednesday at their homes. Both women, who had worked as dancers, had been in jail on theft and drug charges. Because they are alleged victims of sex crimes, the two are identified by their initials, as they are in state documents.

During a session around July 2010, said T.A., 21, Yelton asked her to pull down her pants and penetrated her with so much force she was bruised and bleeding. She pulled up her pants, unlocked the door and ran out. After she declined to meet with Yelton again, T.A. said, guards interviewed her, and she told them everything, except details of the supposed sexual assault.

She met with him once more, T.A. said; he apologized, asked that she not tell anyone what had happened and offered to buy her a new car upon her release if she didn't.

Her allegation that she met with Yelton after telling guards about his behavior contradicts CCA spokesman Steve Owen's previous assertion that, after accusations first surfaced, the company immediately placed Yelton on administrative leave. On Wednesday, Owen would only say that CCA takes the safety and fair treatment of its inmates seriously.

In February, Health Department investigators interviewed T.A. Again, she did not tell them that she had been penetrated.

"I was really ashamed. I didn't want anyone to know," T.A. said Wednesday. "I was an inmate. Who was going to believe me?"

T.A. said she changed her mind when she learned that Yelton had allegedly targeted other women and she wanted it to stop.

"He had done it to so many people," she said, "that I felt like someone should step up."

S.B., 25, the other former inmate suing Yelton, described him as "creepy" and said he told her that when she was released, he would take her shopping in exchange for sex.

"He was doing this to all of us at our most vulnerable points," she said. "He was supposed to help us, not use and abuse us."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@sptimes.com.

Ex-Hernando County jail psychiatrist sued, faces new accusation 05/25/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 10:56pm]
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