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Woman Inmate Says Jail’s Driver Molested Her

(CN) - A 19-year-old woman claims she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an employee of corrections contractor while being transported to a jail in Citrus County, Fla.

In a complaint filed in Miami-Dade County, Lauren Sierra says she was arrested on an outstanding warrant in July 2014, and was being transferred between the Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami and the Citrus County jail in Lecanto, Fla., when the assaults occurred.

Sierra says at the time of her incarceration, she had never been arrested nor involved with the criminal justice system in any way.

She says that on July 24, 2014, she and other inmates were picked up at Miami correctional center by Jorge Vela and Michael Donan, who are both employed by U.S. Corrections LLC, a North Carolina firm specializing in prison transportation services.

While being released from her cell, Sierra says she was ordered to put on her civilian clothes -- the "low-cut tank top, jeans and sandals" she was wearing at the time of her arrest. However, the complaint says, before they left, a corrections officer advised Vela to have her wear a prison T-shirt over the tank top since she was going to be transported with both male and female inmates.

"Vela never gave Lauren the t-shirt so she remained in the tank top throughout the duration of her transport," the complaint states.

The sexual batteries started before plaintiff entered the U.S. Correction's van where she and all the women were shackled at the wrist and ankles and chained around their waist. Vela gave Sierra a full-body pat down; even though she had already been checked when she left the corrections center.

She alleges that Vela, who was driving the van, placed her in the front row along with another young adult female and told her "you're beautiful and I want to watch you." During the transport he also bombarded her with personal questions, and constantly made remarks on her physical appearance and her breasts.

"Finding a beautiful girl here is like finding someone in Africa without AIDS," Vela said. He even asked plaintiff "to have his baby and asked whether she wanted to have intercourse with him." He also insisted to her to call him upon her return to Miami.

According to the complaint, during a stop at a gas station in Lee County, Vela bought Sierra a lollipop and a Gatorade, and allowed to get out of the van to smoke a cigarette.

Vela allegedly continued the sexual battery against Sierra when he performed a "pat down" before allowing her to re-enter the van at the gas station. "This time he put his hands under her shirt and bra and caressed and groped her breasts while she was in shackles," the complaint states.

At another stop, in Charlotte County, Sierra complained about her ankle shacks since they were cutting her ankles. Vela allegedly took advantage of the situation and asked her to put her hands on the van, and lift one leg at a time. Once she did, Sierra says, Vela began "to sexually batter Lauren by improperly grabbing and caressing her buttocks, thighs and vaginal area, under the guise of a pat-down."

In Sarasota County, Vela gave Sierra an envelope with his contact information, and in Osceola County during a bathroom break Vela insisted on watching her sit on the toilet, Sierra says.

Sierra says the alleged abuse only stopped when she was transferred to another van which took her to her final destination in Citrus County. She is represented by Adam Horowitz of Farmer, Jaffe, Weissing, Edwards, Fistos & Lehrman PL. of Ft. Lauderdale.

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