A gay man who says guards at the D.C. Jail beat him in a staircase last month pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of misdemeanor sexual abuse as part of a plea bargain offered by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
John Burrows, a 38-year-old District resident, had been held in the D.C. Jail since September while awaiting trial on charges that he allegedly stole money and sexually abused a 79-year-old man.
His sister, Margaret Groat, said Burrows has denied sexually abusing the man, noting that her brother claims the sex was consensual and a dispute arose when the man refused to comply with a prior agreement to pay for the sex.
Burrows’ jail beating allegation has prompted LGBT activists and D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) to call on the city’s Department of Corrections to give a full account of the incident. Mendelson chairs a Council committee with jurisdiction over the jail.
In letters sent to his mother during the past two weeks, Burrows said jail guards on Dec. 27 handcuffed him and bound his legs, then carried him down three flights of stairs while deliberately knocking his head against the walls and handrails. He told his mother he believed the guards targeted him because he’s gay.
Margaret Groat told DC Agenda that Burrows suffered a concussion, two black eyes and numbness in three fingers as a result of the handcuffs being tightened around his wrists. She said he was awaiting an MRI test to determine the extent of his head injuries after experiencing severe headaches two weeks following the incident.
Sylvia Lane, a Department of Corrections spokesperson, said the department was investigating the incident and had no immediate comment on the matter.
“There is no further information available at this time,” she said.
Groat said she and Burrows’ mother, Judy Burrows, are suspicious that the guards chose to take Burrows into a stairwell to beat him because the location was likely out of the range of the jail’s video cameras.
Devon Brown, director of the Department of Corrections, told a City Council hearing last March that officials had installed more than 600 video surveillance cameras throughout the jail to help ensure “order, safety and security” in the facility.
Mendelson expressed concern that jail and corrections department officials often don’t release information about reports of violence in the jail, including reports of a recent riot by inmates in the jail.
“This is pretty typical of how the Department of Corrections is not responsive,” he said. “We will try to get more information.”
In exchange for pleading guilty, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office dropped a robbery charge against Burrows and lowered a second charge from felony sexual abuse to misdemeanor sexual abuse. The reduced charge carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail.
Burrow’s mother, who attended a court hearing Thursday when the plea agreement was announced, said her son’s lawyer was hopeful that Judge Michael Rankin would sentence him to the four months jail time he has already served in connection with the case.
Rankin scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 21.