Police Records Shed Light On What Happened After A Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Staffer Was Accused Of Rape
Police investigated 2015 rape allegations through 2017, when prosecutors declined to press charges. The man accused of assault, who recently held a top post on Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, denies any sexual contact.
WASHINGTON – On Nov. 4, 2015, a woman went to Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Washington, DC, to report a sexual assault. She told detectives that a week and a half earlier, she’d gone to dinner with her supervisor, had multiple drinks, went back to his home, and was forced to perform oral sex. Her memory was fuzzy, but she said she woke up naked in the man’s bed the next day. She went to a hospital, where a medical examiner found she had pain and bruising around her body.
The woman, referred to in court papers by the pseudonym Jane Doe, told detectives that her assailant was Damien Jones, the intern coordinator for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The woman was a 19-year-old CBCF intern at the time. Following a two-year investigation, which included DNA testing that Jane Doe’s lawyers say showed Jones had physical contact with Jane Doe, prosecutors declined to press charges in December 2017.
A police report and other law enforcement records fill in the timeline of what happened between the alleged assault and a lawsuit Jane Doe filed this month describing the alleged incident and its connection to lawmakers in Congress. Jane Doe worked for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and was fired in March 2018. She accused Jackson Lee and the CBCF of conspiring to retaliate against her because she planned to sue over the alleged rape. There’s already been political fallout — Jackson Lee denies retaliating against Jane Doe, but stepped down as chair of the CBCF board and gave up a congressional committee leadership post after BuzzFeed News reported on the lawsuit earlier this month.
The records obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews also shed light on how Jones went from being fired from the CBCF under the cloud of a sexual assault accusation to a job on Beto O’Rourke’s high-profile US Senate campaign.
The investigation stretched out over two years, but Jane Doe’s allegations against Jones didn’t appear to follow him after he left the CBCF at the end of 2015. His subsequent employers told BuzzFeed News they weren’t aware of the circumstances of his departure. Through his lawyer, he denies he had any sexual contact with Jane Doe.
Jones was hired in May 2018 as a regional political director for O’Rourke’s unsuccessful Senate campaign in Texas. Campaign spokesperson Chris Evans told BuzzFeed News the campaign wasn’t aware of the allegations when they hired Jones — Evans said the campaign contacted Texas-based references that Jones provided, but none were at the CBCF. A Houston-based advisory board recommended Jones to the campaign, Evans said; according to a copy of Jones’ résumé obtained by BuzzFeed News, he interned and worked for state politicians in Texas before taking a job with the CBCF in 2015.
Jones’ employer immediately after he was fired from the CBCF, the Union of Concerned Scientists, also said it was unaware of the allegations. Spokesperson Suzanne Shaw said the organization contacted the CBCF to ask about Jones during the hiring process, but no one at the foundation told them about Jane Doe’s accusation or raised any other “red flags.” The foundation did not return a request for comment about what it told the Union of Concerned Scientists about Jones.
Representatives of O’Rourke’s campaign and the Union of Concerned Scientists said there were no complaints of inappropriate behavior by Jones while he worked for their respective organizations.
At least one member of Congress knew about Jane Doe’s allegations. Jane Doe said in her lawsuit that she told Rep. Terri Sewell about the alleged rape at the time; Sewell and Doe’s mother are related, according to the complaint. Sewell’s office said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that Jane Doe’s lawsuit was “incredibly troubling.”
“The Congresswoman feels confident that she followed appropriate reporting protocol immediately upon being informed about the incident. The Congresswoman is not a party to the lawsuit, nor is she in a position to comment further on the underlying allegations,” the statement said.
Jill Collins, a labor and employment lawyer in Washington, DC, told BuzzFeed News that employers have no legal obligation to share information about why an employee was fired — and that doing so can open up employers to legal action, such as a defamation claim by the employee. Even though employers may fire someone based on an allegation of wrongdoing or even criminal activity, they aren’t responsible for taking on the role of law enforcement, she said (Collins is not involved in Jane Doe’s case).
“There’s not a lot of upside from providing a lot of information from an employers’ perspective,” Collins said.
Although Jones was fired from the CBCF, his work with the Union of Concerned Scientists put him back in contact with the foundation two years later — at the CBCF’s annual legislative conference in September 2017, Jones was on a panel about environmental issues, according to an itinerary available online. CBCF spokesperson Marc Banks told BuzzFeed News that the foundation did not invite Jones, and that third parties often put together panel speakers for the conference.
Jones is not a defendant in Jane Doe’s lawsuit. In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News, Jones’ lawyer Oliver Brown said Jane Doe did stay at Jones’ apartment after she got drunk at a restaurant on the night in question, but “there was no sexual contact at all.”
Jane Doe went to a hospital the day after the alleged assault, according to police records, and the medical report noted redness and swelling in her genital area. A forensic review found semen on her pants, but investigators were unable to get a DNA profile. Jane Doe’s lawyers say Jones’ DNA was found on Jane Doe’s breast; they declined to provide a copy of the DNA test report or her medical records to BuzzFeed News, citing the pending litigation.
Jane Doe’s lawyer Lynne Bernabei told BuzzFeed News that Jane Doe “did everything that victims of rape do” — she reported the alleged assault to police, told friends and Sewell soon after that she was sexually assaulted, and worked with a victim’s rights group.
“Everything that followed showed that this was not consensual,” Bernabei said.
Bernabei said a police detective handling the case told Jane Doe’s counsel that prosecutors did not want to pursue the case. Because two sources of DNA were found on Jane Doe — one that matched Jones, Bernabei said, and one from another source who could not be identified — Jane Doe's lawyers thought the government might have concerns about reasonable doubt, she said.
A spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office said in an email to BuzzFeed News, “We typically do not comment on charging decisions and have no comment on this particular case.” An attempt to contact the lead detective was referred to the Metropolitan Police Department’s public affairs office; an MPD spokesperson declined to comment.
Jones left the CBCF in December 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. Banks told BuzzFeed News that Jones was placed on leave immediately after Jane Doe reported the incident, and that the foundation took "immediate and swift action" to fire him soon after. Banks declined to comment on what the CBCF found in its investigation of Jane Doe’s allegations.
The foundation denies it was involved in any retaliation against Jane Doe — Banks said that activity in a congressional office was outside their purview.
The timeline Jane Doe presented in her lawsuit against the CBCF and Jackson Lee largely tracks a search warrant application submitted by a Metropolitan Police Department detective in January 2017. The detective was seeking a warrant to collect a DNA sample — via a cheek swab — from Jones.
According to the application, when Jane Doe first reported the alleged assault to police on Nov. 4, 2015, she told told two detectives that at a dinner on Oct. 24, 2015, Jones ordered multiple pitchers of margaritas; Jane Doe said she had at least four large mugs. They took a hired car to Jones’ home, Jane Doe told detectives, where she had a shot of whiskey. At that point, Jane Doe said her memory started to fade.
Jane Doe told detectives that she remembered lying on a couch with Jones on top of her kissing her and biting her lip, and that she told him to stop but could not remember what happened next. She recalled throwing up, Jones forcing her head onto his penis, and Jones standing in a doorway while she was naked in his bed. She told detectives she woke up naked the next day in Jones’ bed and Jones was lying next to her. She said she saw on her phone that the night before, she’d messaged a friend asking for help.
Jane Doe’s lawsuit includes additional details, such as Jane Doe recalling thinking at the time, and maybe saying out loud, “I’m not having sex, I just can’t do this.” The lawsuit also includes excerpts of text messages that Jane Doe says she sent a friend that night, including, “Help,” “I’m want t [sic] to go home,” and “I’m ready to cry."
According to the search warrant application, Jane Doe told the detectives that she called Jones the next day, and he denied any sexual activity. He also denied there was marijuana when they were together, Jane Doe told the police, but when she told him she remembered marijuana, Jones told her she had a good memory.
The detective wrote that Jane Doe went to a hospital the day after the alleged assault and went through a sexual assault medical examination. The swabs taken from different parts of her body and her clothing were sent to the city’s Department of Forensic Sciences for testing. The detective wrote that the medical report indicated Jane Doe had a broken finger (Bernabei said that was a mistake, and that Jane Doe had a broken fingernail); swelling in her lower back; pain in her mouth and neck; and redness, swelling, and blood in her pelvic and genital areas.
On March 14, 2016 — a month after Jones was hired at the Union of Concerned Scientists as an environmental justice advocate — a forensic case report came back. The MPD detective wrote in the search warrant application that there was semen on Jane Doe’s pants, but investigators couldn’t pull a DNA profile from the sperm. Other DNA samples retrieved from Jane Doe’s pants showed a mix of a “major female contributor” — determined to be Jane Doe — and one other individual who was male, according to the application.
The search warrant application for Jones’ DNA sample was submitted by the detective to a DC Superior Court judge on Jan. 17, 2017 — it was not clear from the application what happened in the 10 months after the forensic report came back in March 2016. The detective did note that she attempted to contact Jones, but Jones’ attorney told the detective at the time that Jones would not provide a statement to police. On Jan. 25, 2017, police executed the warrant and took Jones’ cheek swab.
In response to a request for forensic reports related to Jones, a lawyer for the Department of Forensic Sciences directed BuzzFeed News to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
Jane Doe said in her lawsuit that the DNA test showed Jones’ DNA was on Jane Doe’s breast, and that Jones “cannot be excluded” as a source of DNA on Jane Doe’s neck.
Brown told BuzzFeed News that he did not know how Jane Doe’s lawyers had information about DNA samples that matched Jones. He said Jones may have had physical contact with Jane Doe while he was helping her move around because she was drunk, but there was no sexual activity.
Brown said on the night in question, Jane Doe got into a fight with her roommate, and Jones offered to let her stay at his home so she wouldn’t get in trouble with the intern program.
“He didn’t do anything to this lady. She was young at the time, she was being young and a little bit irresponsible. She consumed some alcohol that was not purchased by my client at all. She got drunk, made a fool out of herself in front of other people,” Brown said.
Jane Doe went to work for Jackson Lee in the fall of 2017, according to the complaint. In March 2018, she said she told Jackson Lee’s chief of staff Glenn Rushing that she had learned “more about her case involving Mr. Jones and CBCF” and planned to pursue legal action. She says she asked to speak with Jackson Lee, but a meeting never happened, and several weeks after she spoke with Rushing, she was fired.
Rushing previously told BuzzFeed News, “We had nothing to do with any of the actions that have been cited and the person was not wrongfully terminated.”
After publication of this story, Jane Doe's lawyer Lynne Bernabei contacted BuzzFeed News to say she misspoke in an earlier interview. Bernabei said the detective handling Jane Doe's case told Jane Doe's counsel that the US attorney's office was declining to press charges, but did not specify that it was because the multiple DNA profiles found created reasonable doubt — that was the lawyers' theory. Bernabei also said the search warrant application prepared by the Metropolitan Police Department incorrectly stated that Jane Doe's medical records showed she had a broken finger; Bernabei said the medical records showed she had a broken fingernail. This story has been updated to reflect this information.