Closing arguments begin in federal prison rape trial

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (AP) – Six prison employees violated a gay burglary convict’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment by not protecting him from rapes by inmates, his attorneys said Monday in closing arguments of his federal civil trial.

“Being violently assaulted in prison is simply not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society,” said the former inmate’s attorney, Margaret Winter, who is also associate director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

Roderick Keith Johnson, 37, is seeking unspecified damages against an assistant warden and five other Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials. A seventh employee named in the suit was dropped earlier in the four-week trial.

David A. Harris with the Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing the defendants, said during closing arguments later Monday that there was no evidence Johnson was raped and that he changed his stories.

Harris also said Johnson has lied about several things under oath, including his drug use. Johnson had told jurors that he had not taken drugs in several months, but his parole officer testified that Johnson admitted to using them several times in the past few weeks.

“Somebody’s lying to you, and who’s got the most motivation?” said Harris.

The defendants and other prison employees testified that they followed procedures in looking at Johnson’s about half a dozen “life endangerment claims” and when they denied his transfer requests.

Jurors were scheduled to begin deliberating Monday afternoon.

Johnson was incarcerated from 2000-03, including 18 months at the maximum-security Allred Unit near Wichita Falls.

Johnson testified about nine hours over three days, saying prison gangs preyed on him because he is gay and threatened violence unless he performed sex acts.

He said corrections officers sometimes moved him to different parts of the unit but not to safer areas, and that the rapes continued.

One current inmate testified that a prison gang “owned” Johnson and forced him to perform sex acts with inmates who paid the gang with commissary items worth $3 to $7. The inmate testified that none of the lawsuit defendants ever saw Johnson being assaulted but that some corrections officers referred to Johnson as a woman and knew what the gangs were doing.

Officials finally moved Johnson to another prison in 2002, and he didn’t report any sexual assaults in the 20 months he was there.

Johnson sued 15 prison officials in 2002. But last year the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans dropped eight of the original defendants, including the department’s executive director and the prison unit’s senior warden.

Last year a Wichita Falls grand jury did not indict 49 prisoners Johnson had accused of rape.

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