Ex-Inmate's Prison Rape Lawsuit Goes to Trial

9-20-05 - Attorneys were preparing to present their cases to the newly chosen jury in the federal civil trial of seven Texas prison officials accused of refusing to protect an inmate from rapes because he is gay.

Opening statements were to begin Tuesday morning in the case filed by Roderick Keith Johnson, a burglary convict who said prison employees ignored his pleas for help while fellow inmates sexually assaulted him almost every day for a year and a half.

Johnson, 37, is seeking unspecified damages against seven Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials in the 2002 suit filed on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union. An eight-man, six-woman jury _ including two alternates _ was selected Monday afternoon.

During questioning earlier, many in the pool of about 80 potential jurors said they knew at least one guard or other employee at the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls, where Johnson was imprisoned from 2000-03. U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn also asked how they felt about homosexuality and the ACLU, and a few said they had negative feelings about both.

Last year the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans dropped eight of the lawsuit's 15 original defendants, including the department's executive director and the prison unit's senior warden. But the court ruled that the others _ two women and five men _ could be sued for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Mike Viesca has declined to comment on the case.

Johnson, a Navy veteran, was sent to prison in 2000 after violating the terms of his probation from a 10-year sentence in 1992 for burglarizing a Harrison County house.

He said that as the abuse escalated, he repeatedly filed complaints and talked to a prison committee about being moved to another unit or area safer for gay and other vulnerable inmates. But prison officials told him to fight the other inmates and refused to move him until the ACLU's National Prison Project intervened, the ACLU said.

Several prisoners were expected to testify in the civil trial. Last year, a Wichita Falls grand jury did not indict 49 prisoners Johnson had accused of rape.

Last year Johnson was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after an alleged incident with his roommate in Austin, but he was not indicted.