BROOKSVILLE — A former Hernando County jail psychiatrist accused of asking female inmates to expose themselves and implying that he would trade drugs for sex may not face sexual misconduct counts because of an obscure law, but prosecutors are considering related charges.
The Florida surgeon general restricted Dr. James A. Yelton Rossello's license in a March 22 emergency order, stating that the 53-year-old's "actions regarding his patients were egregious and constitute a threat to the public health and safety."
Yelton's Gainesville-based attorney, Jesse Smith, on Monday said his client denied the claims and intended to fight the accusations.
"The most important thing for Dr. Yelton is preserving his license, and that's the only thing we're focused on," Smith said. "The only accusations he's ever faced as far as I know are related to those inmates in Hernando County."
Yelton, who runs a private practice in Gainesville, has been restricted from providing medical, mental health or psychiatric treatment to any female patients, according to the Florida Department of Health website. Yelton may provide treatment to male patients only if he's supervised by a third party who is a licensed medical professional.
The emergency order, a Health Department spokeswoman said Monday, is just the beginning of what could be a lengthy review of Yelton's behavior that will ultimately determine what, if any, action the department or the state Board of Medicine will take on the matter.
Yelton had received the title of assistant clinical professor at the University of Florida because he was employed from 1998 to 2002 at a Gainesville treatment center that formerly worked with UF psychiatry fellows and residents.
Noting that Yelton was never employed by the university, a UF spokeswoman said after hearing of the accusations Monday, officials intended to strip him of the title.
"Certainly we're very concerned about the allegations," UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said. "They were reprehensible."
The accusations against Yelton stem from his treatment of four women from November 2009 to August 2010 while he was employed by the Corrections Corporation of America, which for 22 years was contracted to run the jail until the county took back control of it Aug. 27.
CCA spokesman Steve Owen said that when the accusations first surfaced in early August, the company immediately placed Yelton on administrative leave and notified the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the doctor's behavior.
Based on authorities' findings, Owen said, the company fired Yelton.
"I think the conclusion was that the allegations made were serious enough and they were credible enough," Owen said, "that we did not want to keep his services."
In one instance, the order showed, Yelton pinned a woman to the wall and molested her.
But under a complex Florida statute, prosecutor Brian Trehy said the state cannot charge Yelton with sexual misconduct because none of the inmates claimed that he penetrated them — a required condition under the law. Legislators, he added, would have to alter the statute for authorities to charge people accused of Yelton's alleged actions.
"An ordinary person would expect a doctor to be held responsible for this conduct," he said.
The state may still pursue separate charges pertaining to certain allegations, Trehy said, but he's waiting for Health Department officials to address some medical aspects of the case that require expert opinion.
When asked if authorities could prosecute Yelton in connection with his alleged offers to exchange medication for sex, Trehy said he could not yet comment on that issue.
Yelton, the order showed, treated the women in a small, windowless room formerly used as a medication closet, where the female inmates said he inappropriately touched and propositioned them.
Since the county took back control of the jail in August, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said female inmates are treated by a psychiatrist in a standard treatment room where one of two female mental health workers is also always present.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at email@example.com or at (352) 848-1432.