Lawsuit settled in which 15 women alleged sexual abuse at Florida prison

The 15 women suing said officers had sexually assaulted and abused them for years. Now they’ve reached a settlement
Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Fl. in Sumter County.
Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Fl. in Sumter County. [ Times (2001) ]
Published May 5, 2021|Updated May 6, 2021

The United States has settled a lawsuit with 15 women who said correctional officers at a federal prison in Florida repeatedly sexually abused them.

The lawsuit contended that Bureau of Prisons officers at Federal Correctional Complex Coleman in Sumter County sexually abused female inmates for years and threatened the women if they didn’t comply. The women feared that if they came forward they’d be sent to another federal facility far from their families, interrupting the education and work programs they had at Coleman, which is the largest federal prison in the U.S.

Settlements were approved by the Attorney General’s office on Monday. Three of the women received $1.26 million between them, said their lawyer, James DeMiles. Bryan Busch, who represented 11 women, and Phil Reizenstein, who represents one woman, said they did not want to comment on the settlement amounts until funds were released.

Six of the eight accused officers admitted to having sexual contact with inmates, according to a July document filed by the United States in response to the complaint. But no officers were prosecuted. They instead retired or resigned, and some still receive benefits from their federal employment.

“I would remain optimistic and hopeful that the powers that be take a hard look at the numerous officers who were named in that indictment,” DeMiles said.

He said he felt the amount given to his clients was fair. Settlements for some of the women, some whom are currently still incarcerated there, were higher than the government had initially allocated to pay. If the case had not settled, it would have gone to trial next year.

Joe Rojas, the southeast regional vice president for the workers union, AFGE Council of Prisons, said the case was a black eye for an otherwise hardworking and upright staff. He said it’s a sentiment other correctional officers share.

“I’m just sad because honestly those officers got away with a crime,” Rojas said.

Lauren Reynolds received $600,000 for her settlement - but she said it wasn’t about the money. Reynolds, a former inmate at Coleman, had hoped to go to trial and help spark prison reform. She said she wanted to hold the Bureau of Prisons accountable for the abuse she and others experienced.

But as settlement conferences dragged on, the effects of her trauma worsened. Reynolds said she was raped by a correctional officer at Coleman for six months while serving time there. As the case slowly made its way through the courts, she said she couldn’t sleep through the night. She began taking medication to try to help.

“This dragging on, it’s like you’re still living it,” Reynolds said. “It’s not the closure I wanted but it’s still closure.”