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BOP Pays $40,000 to Prisoner Sexually Assaulted at Florida Lockup by Guard, Who Must Pay Her $1 Million

by David M. Reutter

Back in June 2022, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) agreed to pay $40,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a prisoner repeatedly subjected to sexually assault by a guard at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Mariana, Florida. But the settlement with “Jane Doe” specifically excluded the former guard, Phillip Golightly. On February 7, 2023, he was ordered by the federal court for the Northern District of Florida to pay his victim $1 million in damages.

The case presents the latest test of reforms BOP implemented under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), though it took over a decade to do so after Congress passed the law in 2003. Prisoners had long complained of sexual victimization before that, of course. Now, one PREA requirement is for large signs to be posted in prisons proclaiming “Zero Tolerance for Sexual Abuse.” Despite that mandate, prison officials view prisoner allegations against staff with suspicion, and BOP leads the way in trying to keep these allegations in the dark. The Gender Policy Report said in 2017 that “PREA has effectively enforced penalties against prisoners for consensual sexual activity,” yet “there is no evidence that the new rules have reduced the gender-based and sexual violence against incarcerated people that is perpetuated most frequently by correctional staff.”

In an October 2022 Management Advisory Memorandum, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) declared that a BOP staffer cannot be disciplined based on prisoner testimony unless it leads to criminal charges, or “unless there is evidence aside from inmate testimony that independently establishes the misconduct, such as a video capturing the act of misconduct, conclusive forensic evidence, or an admission from the subject.”

The plea filed in 2020 in the government’s criminal case against Golightly, then 38, demonstrated just how hard this makes it for prisoners. In November 2017, the guard dragged prisoner “K.D.” to a “dark area” where he stripped her and “plac[ed] his mouth on her vulva.” Fighting back, she fell on the floor, but he chased her there and “place[ed] his penis in her mouth,” forcing her to perform oral sex “until he ejaculated in her mouth.” A week later, he cornered her in the staff dining room and “inserted his fingers in her vagina and anus.” Then he “unzipped his pants, exposed his penis and forced her to stroke his penis until he ejaculated.” Quick-thinking K.D. saved some of the semen from these events to provide staff that “conclusive forensic evidence” they needed to investigate her complaint. Based on that, Golightly was sentenced on September 3, 2021, to a two-year prison term and five years of supervised release. See: USA v. Golightly, USDC (N.D. Fla.), Case No. 4:20-cr-00032.

Meanwhile Doe’s complaint was filed in the same court in May 2021, outlining the sexual abuse she suffered from the guard when assigned to duty in the kitchen he supervised in March 2017. Warning “that he had the authority to do whatever he likes and could get away with it, including sending inmates who did not listen to him to worse locations,” Golightly “trapped” Doe “in a freezer and sexually assaulted” her on May 15, 2017. Five days later, she said that he forced her to perform oral sex on him while he kissed another prisoner. Golightly demanded that she return weekly “for more sexual acts,” under threat “that he would use his authority to cause negative consequences” for her. Even when she was transferred to FCI-Tallahassee in May 2019, the abuse and threats did not end because Golightly worked at that prison, too.

Chances don’t look good that Doe will recover much of the $1 million she was awarded in damages—not from a fired prison guard, though he is out of prison now and can presumably look for work, with wages she can garnish. The government’s token payment for the abuse she suffered included fees and costs for Doe’s Orlando attorney, Mary Sherris, and co-counsel John W. Chwarzynski , Jr. of Hale & Monico LLC in Chicago. See: Doe v. Golightly, USDC (N.D. Fla.), Case No. 4:21-cv-00402.

BOP Director Colette Peters has promised concrete steps to end sexual abuse, starting with a change in “the culture and environment” to ensure “all stakeholders feel empowered” to “[e]nhance reporting of sexual misconduct.” But that’s hard to square with BOP’s policy on prisoner testimony, leaving “the statements of incarcerated people with assault and rape allegations to carry less weight than [they] would in other contexts,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the National Prison Project for the American Civil Liberties Union. She called the agency’s ban on prisoner statements in employee misconduct investigations “dangerous, disappointing and outrageous—especially given the numerous sexual abuse allegations at BOP facilities involving BOP staff.”  

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Related legal case

Doe v. Golightly