Two female ex-inmates sue prison psychiatrist for sexual assaults

May 30, 2011

The room was like a closet. It was small, dark and had no windows.

It was the perfect setting for Dr. James Yelton Rossello to manipulate or coerce his victims to submit to his sexual advances, said the attorney who is suing him on behalf of two former patients.

The same attorney said Yelton used the cramped office space as a "sex den."

Samuel Rogatinsky, a South Florida attorney, is representing two women who were former inmates at the Hernando County Jail while Yelton was a member of its medical staff.

They accused Yelton of sexually assaulting and harassing them repeatedly during one-on-one medical visits.

They are suing him and Corrections Corporation of America, the company that used to employ Yelton and manage the jail.

Rogatinsky said whenever Yelton lured a patient into his room, he always locked the door, he said.

He also said the correctional officers brought the inmates to the psychiatrist and led them out while refusing to do anything to stop the abuse.

"It's like that all around the country," said Rogatinsky.

"It just doesn't make sense," he continued. "How could a (jail) operate like that?"

Yelton would wait only a "short period of time" before asking sexually charged questions of his patients, including what they liked about sex and what their preferences were, said Rogatinsky.

Early on, Yelton would frame his questions in a way to make the patients think he was psychoanalyzing their sexual attitudes and habits, when in fact, he was coming onto them, the attorney said.

"While acting as a psychiatrist, he battered and sexually molested our clients," said Rogatinsky, who held a media conference Wednesday afternoon along with his co-counsel, Joseph Saunders, at the latter's office in Pinellas Park.

The civil complaint was filed earlier that morning in Hernando County Circuit Court in Brooksville.

The plaintiffs, who are 23 and 20 years old respectively, are seeking more than $15,000 in damages, according to court records.

In a media release, Rogatinsky stated the defendant once offered to buy one of his victims a car if she kept quiet.

Other times he made threats to continue the abuse, he wrote.

One of the plaintiffs, referred to in court documents as JANE DOE I, was incarcerated at the Hernando County Jail from October 2009 until April 2010.

For a portion of that time, Yelton "battered and sexually molested the Plaintiff" on several occasions, according to court records.

Rogatinsky said he forcibly hugged and kissed the woman on the mouth, coerced her to lift up or remove her clothes so he could see private parts of her body and repeatedly rubbed her thighs, legs and feet.

Yelton continued the abuse against the plaintiff by "threatening her with additional criminal charges and threatening to withhold her medications if she refused to cooperate with his deviant behavior," attorneys wrote.

They also stated the abuse took place "bi-weekly" in Yelton's locked room within the premises of the jail.

The other plaintiff, referred to in the same document as JANE DOE II, made similar claims against the doctor.

She also accused Yelton of forcing her to sit on his lap while he slid his hands under her shirt.

Rogatinsky said he would bring her lunch, but wouldn't give her the food unless she was sitting on his lap.

One of his clients, he said, was injured during one of her visits with Yelton.

He said it was a blatant case of sexual battery for which Yelton should have been criminally charged.

In March, when the allegations first surfaced, Assistant State Attorney Brian Trehy said it was unlikely Yelton would be arrested.

He said the doctor's behavior was "reprehensible," but were not in violation of Florida law.

A message left Wednesday with Trehy was not returned.

"That's not going to fly," said Rogatinsky of Trehy's earlier comments.

Rogatinsky said his client's injuries were a direct result of Yelton's actions and more than meets the legal requirements for a felony charge of sexual misconduct by a psychotherapist.

Trehy also said the sexual contact between Yelton and his patients were allegedly "bargained for" and therefore were not against their will.

That explanation also was refuted by Rogatinsky.

The Florida Department of Health interviewed one of the plaintiffs for 20 minutes at her grandmother's house when the allegations first came to light, her attorney said.

No one from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office or the State Attorney's Office, both of which were credited for taking part in the investigation two months ago, spoke to either of the plaintiffs, Rogatinsky said.

Yelton, who was last known to be working in Gainesville, had emergency restrictions placed on him by the Department of Health, which declared him "an immediate serious danger to the public health, safety or welfare."

The state surgeon general barred him from treating female patients and required he treat male patients under strict supervision.

Mike Machak, a CCA spokesman, did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

A few years ago, a former employee at the Hernando County Jail filed a lawsuit against CCA and a former supervisor.

The plaintiff accused two of her supervisors of sexual harassment and said the company ignored her complaints.

A trial date for that case will be set June 8, according to court documents.

Source: Tony Holt, "Civil action filed in Hernando against psychiatrist, CCA," Hernando Today (Tampa Tribune),  May 25, 2011.


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