Florida prison warden gets promotion days after lawsuit accuses him of ignoring rapes of inmates
Shackled woman (Shuttershock)

A Florida prison warden was promoted to a higher-echelon position 12 days after an inmate filed a lawsuit accusing him of ignoring "widespread" sexual and physical abuse.

The Florida Department of Corrections rewarded Stephen Rossiter, who had overseen the Lowell Correctional Institution, with a new position that was defined as a promotion by the prison system’s director of communications, who underlined the word "promotion" in an email to the Miami Herald confirming the warden's new role as assistant regional director of programs.

“This is what the FDC does,” said Debra Bennett, an former Lowell inmate who co-founded the Change Comes Now activist organization. “They promote to silence.”

A lawsuit filed by an inmate Sept. 1 against Rossiter and the FDC cited numerous specific examples of sexual misconduct at the correctional facility near Ocala, accusing the warden of ignoring a pattern of abuse, harassment and threats by staff against inmates, and a separate complaint filed in July by another woman accuses another officer of sexual abuse.

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“[It's] very distressing that the Department of Corrections would promote someone to a position of even greater responsibility who has demonstrated such a significant disregard for the rights of prisoners," said attorney David Frankel, who is representing both women and has filed similar cases over the past five years. “Although that could be the very reason he was rewarded with a promotion."

A Miami Herald investigation prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to send a team to interview inmates, their families and prison staff, and the department issued a scathing report in December 2020 finding reasonable cause to believe the facility violated prisoners' constitutional rights resulting in sexual abuse by staff and other serious physical harm.

“Rossiter’s track record of abuse should have resulted in an immediate firing not a cover-up which led to a promotion — I stand by my demand [made] two years ago and call on [Gov. Ron] DeSantis to examine and withdraw this promotion," said state Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Hillsborough County). "Abuse of any kind is unacceptable.”