Crime

After ex-inmate names guards she says groped, grabbed, fondled her, Florida investigates

Jordyn Gilley-Nixon has nothing to lose.

She’s disabled, unemployed and doesn’t have minor children. She’s no longer an inmate at Lowell Correctional Institution, where she said she was too scared to file complaints because of retaliation.

Now, Gilley-Nixon, 39, is naming several men at Lowell who she says sexually harassed, groped and made passes at her while she was incarcerated. Her YouTube video, which has garnered more than 15,000 views in less than a week, sparked an investigation with the Florida Department of Corrections’ inspector general.

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Jordyn Gilley-Nixon Florida Department of Corrections

The FDC, in a statement released through a spokeswoman, confirmed the matter is under investigation.

“This video has been sent to the FDC Office of Inspector General for a thorough investigation into the allegations. The Florida Department of Corrections takes all allegations of abuse or mistreatment of inmates seriously and encourages all inmates and staff to promptly report inappropriate or illegal conduct,” the statement said. “The department has a robust inmate grievance process, along with an anonymous TIPS line that contacts the OIG directly, to ensure inmates are afforded every opportunity to report misconduct without fear of retribution.

“The FDC Office of Inspector General ensures all reports of misconduct are thoroughly investigated. Any employee found to have acted inappropriately or illegally faces disciplinary action up to and including dismissal and arrest. The FDC has zero tolerance for staff who act inappropriately and contrary to our core values: respect, integrity, courage, selfless service and compassion.”

Despite the statement, the department — and particularly Lowell — has been the source of countless complaints about sexual harassment involving male guards in charge of female inmates. The situation has persisted through various wardens and secretaries of the department.

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Cheryl Weimar suffered a broken neck in a beating by staff at Lowell Correctional Institution, according to her lawyer. This photograph preceded her current incarceration.

Just this past month, when a journalist interviewed an inmate who alleged sexual harassment by Lowell officers — after she was impregnated via rape by a guard in another Florida prison — the department insisted on having staff in the room, prompting the inmate to temper her answers.

Gilley-Nixon posted the video as part of the protest movement against the attack on current inmate Cheryl Weimar by four guards, which left Weimar paralyzed. In a confrontation on Aug. 21 over cleaning toilets, guards dragged Weimar, who has a history of mental illness, “like a rag doll” until they were away from cameras, beating her nearly to death. A lawyer is suing the Florida Department of Corrections on her behalf.

“It’s not just Cheryl’s story,” Gilley-Nixon said. “Cheryl’s story is horrible. It’s absolutely disgusting that that could happen and continue to happen, but it’s been going on for years.”

Lowell is the focus of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for mistreatment of inmates. A Miami Herald 2015 series on Lowell, the second largest women’s prison in the United States, detailed how guards would force inmates to trade sexual favors for items like toilet paper or tampons.

A Miami Herald I-Team investigation into corruption, sexual abuse and medical neglect at the largest women's prison in the nation, Lowell Correctional. Reporting by Julie K. Brown / jbrown@miamiherald.com.

Gilley-Nixon said she’s had officers push their entire body weight against her and kiss her, rub their erect penis on her and grope her genitals. She said a corrections officer with a foot fetish demanded to see her bare feet.

In prison she was known as Jordyn Cahill. She was a drug addict who turned to crime, getting arrested and convicted on a charge of robbery with a deadly weapon. In prison she said she worked to turn her life around, becoming a certified paralegal.

Though she’s been in other prisons, she said she suffered abuse only at Lowell, and only from the men.

“These are male officers, and it’s a good ol’ boy system,” she said.

She plans to meet with someone from the Inspector General’s Office on Tuesday to look at photos and complaints filed against some of the men Gilley-Nixon mentioned in her video.

Since her video was posted, Gilley-Nixon has been asking current and former inmates and family members of inmates to share their stories with the Inspector General’s Office. In the first 24 hours after her video was posted on YouTube, she said she had seven people call her to share stories — including one family member worried about a young woman inside who had a 30-minute-long pelvic exam, she said.

Generally, Gilley-Nixon said she had a good rapport with the officers because of her prison job. Gilley-Nixon worked in the education building with her own office, she said, where officers would drop by. But she said having a good relationship also made her a target. In her video, she details how one officer wrote her a disciplinary report and asked her on a date on the back of it.

When she was released in 2013, Gilley-Nixon said several of the officers reached out to her. One reminisced about a kiss they shared — one that Gilley-Nixon said she was forced into, one of her worst memories.

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Lowell Correctional Institution, one of the largest female prisons in the nation, is located in Central Florida, just outside of Ocala, Fl. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Since her release, she has dated Blake Avis, a correctional officer at the same time of her incarceration, on and off for about five years. She said he did not ever act inappropriately with her on the inside.

Since the video has come out, Gilley-Nixon said she’s heard from Avis’ ex-wife and her new husband, who both work for FDC, she said. They have called her a liar, but she said the feedback has been mostly positive.

“I fear nothing, but not everybody is in that same position,” she said. “People are wanting to see change, so they are inviting people to speak out, which is what I will continue to do.”

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