Six prison officials were found not liable Tuesday in a federal lawsuit claiming they violated a gay convict’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment by ignoring his pleas for protection from inmate rapes.
Roderick Keith Johnson, 37, had sought unspecified damages against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials at the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls, where he was housed for 18 months for burglary.
“I think the trial will have made a difference even though it didn’t go our way,” said Johnson’s attorney, Margaret Winter. “I really think it’s been a wake-up call to public officials in Texas.”
The defendants smiled and hugged their attorneys and each other after the verdict was read. The jury of six men and six women deliberated nearly eight hours over two days.
Johnson, whose nearly four-year prison term ended in 2003, testified that prison gangs forced him to be their sex slave while the officials never investigated his reports of abuse or kept him in a safer area for vulnerable inmates.
The defendants and other prison employees testified they could not substantiate Johnson’s half a dozen or so rape claims because he changed his stories or there was no medical evidence. They said Johnson usually seemed upbeat in prison, wearing tight pants and flirting with a corrections officer.
Juror Randy Shelton, 43, said he didn’t think there was enough evidence of the assaults. “He probably was (raped), but he never came out with a rape test,” Shelton said.
Named in the suit were: assistant warden Richard Wathen; corrections officers Jimmy Bowman, Tommy Norwood, David Taylor and Onessimo Ranjel; and administrative technician Tracy Kuyava. All still work at Allred except Ranjel, who is a state trooper.
“The jury’s ruling shows a tremendous confidence in our ability to do our jobs professionally and without bias,” the defendants said in a statement, declining further comment.
Committee weighs ‘life endangerment claims’
Each of them occasionally sat on a three-member committee that decides whether to move inmates to safer areas, based on prisoners’ “life endangerment claims.”
Defense attorney David A. Harris said Johnson lied under oath about several things, including his cocaine use.
Johnson testified about nine hours over three days, saying some employees made fun of him during committee hearings and told him to fight the other inmates or get a boyfriend for protection. Five current prisoners testified, including one who said inmates had sex with Johnson and paid the prison gang that owned him with commissary items worth $3 to $7.
Johnson was moved to another prison in 2002 and didn’t report any sexual assaults during his 20 months there.
Last year a Wichita Falls grand jury did not indict 49 prisoners Johnson had accused of rape.