ACLU Presents Closing Statement in Texas Prison Sex Slave Trial

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
October 17, 2005 12:00 am

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Jury Verdict Expected Soon

WICHITA FALLS, TX- The American Civil Liberties Union presented closing argument today at the civil trial of six prison officials who refused to protect Roderick Keith Johnson, a gay former Texas prisoner who was repeatedly raped and sold as a sex slave by prison gangs.

A jury verdict in the case is expected later today or tomorrow.

“”Prisoner rape in Texas is real and widespread,”” said Kara Gotsch of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, which is representing Johnson. “”Gay men who enter prison are immediately targeted for abuse by the violent gangs that dominate many maximum security facilities. Roderick Johnson was the property of the gangs who owned him and members rented him out for sex.””

During the federal trial that began September 19, the jury listened to horrifying testimony from prisoners who saw Johnson forced into sexual acts, heard his screams for help while being raped and saw staff look the other way. Two witnesses, who were former members of the Gangster Disciples, testified that Johnson was owned by their gang and was considered its property. If Johnson resisted the gang’s control he would be severely beaten or killed, they said. One prisoner testified that gang leaders told him to prostitute Johnson for money or commissary. He rented Johnson out for $3-$7 a sex act.

A third witness told the jury he overheard the prison’s Assistant Warden tell Johnson, who had approached officials in the hall for help, “”Get your gay snitching ass out of my face before I put you in close custody where you will really get fucked.”” A ranking officer standing with the Warden then said to Johnson, “”That’s what you get for being gay,”” according to the witness.

Because of serious threats and acts of retaliation, none of the prisoner witnesses were publicly identified during the trial. Their names were only revealed during the swearing-in process, which was closed to the public and the media.

“”The prison officials in this case showed callous indifference toward Roderick Johnson,”” said Gotsch. “”Texas prison employees are trained to recognize vulnerable characteristics in prisoners and to heed their pleas for help. Instead, officials chose to humiliate Roderick Johnson and turn a blind eye to his repeated requests for protection.””

In September 2000, Johnson was transferred to the James A. Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Texas where prison gangs bought and sold him as a sexual slave, raping, abusing, and degrading him continuously for 18 months. Johnson filed numerous complaints with prison officials and appeared before the prison’s classification committee seven separate times asking to be transferred to safekeeping, protective custody, or another prison, but each time they refused, telling him that he must “fight or fuck,” according to witness testimony given at trial.

Prison officials moved Johnson out of the Allred Unit and into a wing designated for vulnerable prisoners in April 2002, only after the ACLU intervened on his behalf. The ACLU lawsuit seeks damages against six Allred officials for ignoring his pleas for help and failing to protect him against continued sexual attacks.

Johnson’s story is not an isolated case, said the ACLU. In 2001, Human Rights Watch identified Texas as the worst state in the nation for prison rape. This summer, a Department of Justice publication found that prisoners in Texas reported six times as many allegations of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual violence than in any other state.

“”We believe that a ruling in favor of Roderick would be a critical step in reforming the Texas prison system,”” Gotsch added.

Johnson v. Wathen was tried before U.S. District Court Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn. Johnson is represented by Margaret Winter and Jeff Monks of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, Tim Hoffman of Hoffman, Sheffield & Sauseda in Amarillo and civil rights attorney Edward Tuddenham. Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas, provided additional legal assistance.

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