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Marshals left before courthouse cell sex assault, victim says

WASHINGTON -- A Washington D.C. inmate identified by authorities as the victim of a sex assault in a court holding cell says three U.S. marshals left the area shortly before the incident.

In an interview with The Washington Post through the D.C. jail’s video visitation system, the 27-year-old man recounted his experience in the D.C. Superior Court cell. Court papers say security cameras captured part of the 12-minute attack. The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify victims of sexual attacks.

“This happened in what is supposed to be one of the safest places. In the courthouse. Where marshals are supposed to protect everyone. Just steps away from a judge,” the inmate said. “You would think you would be safer there.”

The man said he heard one marshal say, “It’s lunchtime,” shortly before the three left and he didn’t see or hear any other marshals. Officials from the U.S. Marshals Service and the court declined to comment on what happened on Veterans Day as the inmates waited to be taken back to the D.C. jail. The Marshals Service also would not discuss the staffing at the time, or how often marshals are required to check on inmates.

The inmate, who is accused of attacking a man with a box cutter at a liquor store, was at court that day for a judge-ordered psychological evaluation following his arrest last month. After a hearing, he was ushered into a holding cell. Jerome Holliway, 36, who had been arrested for violating his parole in a previous simple assault and obstruction of justice case, was already in the cell, according to court records.

Holliway asked the younger inmate several times why he was arrested, but he ignored the questions. After Holliway told him “I need to make sure you’re not a cop,” the younger inmate said Holliway threw him to the floor, then dragged him across the floor by the shackles around his ankles to a small area behind a metal divider where the toilet is located. Holliway choked, punched and bit him and then sexually assaulted him.

“He almost killed me. I thought I was going to die. I tried to fight back,” the man said. “I tried to scream for help. I was panicked,” he said. He said his assailant repeatedly told him to “shut up.”

When marshals arrived five minutes after the attack ended they found the naked inmate curled into a fetal position with his orange jumpsuit around his ankles, according to court documents. Holliway, fully clothed, was sitting on a bench. Holliway told authorities the sex was consensual, according to the documents.

The younger inmate fell unconscious during the attack and was hospitalized for two days, he said. The assault left him physically and emotionally scarred.

“I don’t feel how I normally would. I’m angry. But I’m not sure if how I feel is because of the attack or because of the meds I’m now on,” he said.

Holliway is charged with first-degree sexual abuse. A spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Defender Service, which represents Holliway, declined to comment.

Last week, a D.C. Superior Court judge delayed a hearing in the younger inmate’s assault case after a court psychologist found the man mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Tammy Seltzer, director of the D.C. Jail and Prison Advocacy Project, called the alleged assault “horrific.”

“Leaving defendants unsupervised and cameras unmonitored puts individuals in danger. We know that people with psychiatric disabilities are generally more vulnerable and we count on the marshals to protect them when they’re brought to court,” Seltzer said.