Click to view image: 'I knew I was just raped. I knew it wasn't suppose'15-year-old Ashley had no inkling of what was to come on the day in 2005 when she was in Manhattan Family Court on a minor charge.
"You want to believe everybody's good, everybody wants to help you," she told me last week.
A hulking juvenile counselor named Tony Simmons led her in handcuffs from the girls holding area to the elevator.
She expected Tyson, as Simmons was called, to bring her up to the courtroom where she was scheduled to be sentenced for filing a false police report.
Instead, the elevator descended to the basement. The 42-year-old counselor pulled down her pants and raped her with calm, practiced precision that made him all the more terrifying.
"He knew exactly what he was doing," Ashley said. "Everything."
When he was done, Simmons pulled her pants back up and the elevator ascended to the courtroom. He raised an extended index finger to his lips in a mute command for her to say nothing.
"I was very scared," Ashley said. "I was terrified. He was a very large man."
Just moments after being violated, Ashley was seated next to her mother and before the judge. She was too shocked and terrified to report the attack.
"I knew I was just raped. I knew it wasn't supposed to happen," she recalled. "I didn't think anybody would believe me."
She kept silent as she was found to be a juvenile delinquent and sentenced to 12 months. She says her only crime was initially reporting to police she did not know who had jumped and cut her on the way to school.
Simmons continued to prey on teenagers in his custody until 2008, when a 15-year-old girl came forward to say he had sodomized her behind a locker in the girls holding area, which he stocked with condoms and cookies. Investigators believe the assaults go back a decade to the rape of a 13-year-old in the holding area.
"Just the tip of the iceberg," Assistant District Attorney Amir Vonsover said in 2008, when Simmons was indicted for three sex assaults.
On Sept. 27, Simmons appeared in court and pleaded guilty to raping Ashley and sexually assaulting two other teens.
He received probation.
"I got 12 months for a falsified police report and he got probation for raping me and the others," Ashley said on Friday. "It's just ridiculous."
Ashley says she was not told about the probation deal when she called Vonsover last week to check on the case. She had prepped to testify in the upcoming trial, but she was now told that Simmons had pleaded guilty.
"[Vonsover] said, 'You should be so happy,'" Ashley recalled. "I'm thinking, 'Great. He's definitely going to jail.'"
When she went online later, Ashley saw a news report that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had blasted Judge Cassandra Mullen as "outrageously lenient" for giving Simmons probation.
In defense of the judge, the Office of Court Administration noted that the transcript of the plea shows that Vonsover offered no objection. He was insisting he had objected during an off-the-record sidebar. Court sources say Vonsover offered Simmons his cell phone to call relatives before taking the plea.
Ashley and her family feel the judge still bears some responsibility no matter what the prosecutor did or did not say. Ashley's mother-in-law asked, "I'm a nurse. If a doctor gives a wrong prescription, do I give it or do I question it?"
Ashley recalled what the investigators told her in 2008, after they contacted her and she finally recounted the rape.
"They said, 'Great! We have a definite case. He is going down, 100%.'"
She also remembered how she felt when she had to identify Simmons in a lineup.
"I lost my breath, to be honest," she said. "I stood there for about four or five minutes. I couldn't speak. I actually felt like my heart was going to stop in my chest."
While pondering Simmons' probation for the courthouse rape the day she got 12 months, Ashley notes that she actually served nearly three years.
She is not of the streets and that made her the target of kids who were. And, as the shock of the rape turned to anger, she often talked back to counselors.
"You say something, they throw you on the floor; 60 days, 90 days, 120 days added to your sentence," she said.
She was already an orphan and she had lost her adoptive parents as well by the time she was released. She nevertheless kept on track, getting a perfect score on her GED exam and enrolling in a professional program at a prestigious university.
"It's awesome! It's beautiful!" said Ashley, now 20.
True love helped her overcome trust issues that began with that walk to the elevator five years ago. She is married and has a son she named after Vonsover before she could even imagine Simmons getting probation.
She does not want her full name in the paper, lest Simmons try to track her down. She is not worried about her photo.
"I'm only scared of one man, and he already knows what I look like," she said.
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