Orlando, Florida- from www.orlandosentinel.com – A former Volusia County lifeguard claims that underage girls are expected to have sex with their Beach Patrol peers and that doing so is a “rite of passage” among the young lifeguards, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Orlando.
In a suit filed earlier this month, Ashley Drury, now 19, said Volusia officials allowed a “culture of sexual abuse and depravity to take hold” of the Beach Patrol. “That culture…has focused over the years on the minor children employed as lifeguards,” by the Beach Patrol, the suit alleges.
Drury was 16 when she began working as a lifeguard during the summer of 2008. In her suit, Drury said she had sex with three of her adult peers. One of those encounters was in a lifeguard tower.
Drury filed suit against those three men — Robert Paul Tameris, Jecoa Duane Simmons and Christin Duarte — all of whom have since been fired and were at one point the target of a criminal investigation.
Tameris, 45, of Port Orange, has two pending court cases on two separate charges of unlawful sexual contact with a minor.
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Simmons, 37, of Port Orange, was charged with witness tampering and soliciting a person to commit perjury in an official proceeding. That case is still pending. Prosecutors decided not to file charges against him on an accusation of unlawful sex with a minor.
Duarte, 32, of Daytona Beach, was also accused of unlawful sex with a minor, but prosecutors decided not to file charges in that case.
Volusia’s Beach Patrol consists of sworn law-enforcement officers and civilian lifeguards. Tameris and Simmons are each sworn officers, though not presently employed by a law-enforcement agency, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said. Duarte was a civilian lifeguard. Attempts to reach the men Wednesday morning were unsuccessful.
In the lawsuit, Drury said she filed a criminal complaint against Tameris, Simmons and Duarte in March 2009 for the alleged sexual abuse.
Names of alleged sex abuse victims are normally not released or named publicly in criminal cases, and Drury could have filed her lawsuit anonymously. But she filed the suit under her name, which is why the Orlando Sentinel is identifying her.
Drury also is suing several top Volusia County officials: Beach Patrol Director Kevin Sweat; County Manager James Dinneen; Deputy County Manager Mary Anne Connors and Director of Public Protection Mike Coffin.
On Wednesday, Volusia County spokesman Dave Byron issued a statement in response to the allegations made in the suit:
“We will vigorously defend the county and the named defendants. The allegations in this lawsuit are baseless,” he said. “When problems of this nature occur, management deals with them swiftly, professionally and sternly.”
In her lawsuit, Drury said it’s “common knowledge” that youths hired as lifeguards are expected to have sex with the officers and adult lifeguards. She claimed it’s also known that youth lifeguards won’t be re-hired the next summer unless they have sex.
Drury said the sex abuse wasn’t “an occasional occurrence by a few isolated individuals, but was a regular fact of life for members of the Beach Patrol, occurring over the course of many, many years,” according to court documents. The suit, filed Aug. 6, names several other alleged abuse victims, identifying them by their initials.
County spokesman Byron noted Tameris, Simmons and Duarte were fired and the county initiated the investigation and turned the matter over to law enforcement.
“The Volusia County Beach Patrol has an international reputation for excellence,” Byron said in an email statement. “It’s one of the few beach safety organizations in the world where the fulltime members of the patrol are triple certified as Florida law enforcement officers, certified lifeguards and EMTs. It’s an accredited law enforcement agency.”
Earlier this year, Simmons and Duarte were fired on grounds of unprofessional conduct and inappropriate relationship with a minor. Simmons also was accused of tampering with or harassing a witness victim or informant and improperly using state drivers-license and criminal-justice databases.
Part-time lifeguard, Rodrigo Miranda, who is accused of lying for Duarte, was fired on grounds of unprofessional conduct.
In her suit, Drury requests a jury trial for civil rights violations and is seeking monetary damages.
Margie Moore, director for the Arlington, Va.-based National Center for Women and Policing, said if the sexual abuse allegations are true and there is such a culture at the Beach Patrol, it “is indicative of the managerial ranks really not paying attention to the possibility this could exist.”
The suit suggests there’s an atmosphere at the Beach Patrol, Moore said, where girls are not comfortable coming forward about the alleged sexual abuse when it occurred.