A rape victim who was jailed in Texas for nearly a month because prosecutors feared she would not return to testify after having a mental breakdown on the stand has sued the Harris County district attorney’s office, county officials and jail employees.
The woman, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, was held in the general population at the county jail — the same place where the rape suspect, Keith Hendricks, was housed. There, the suit says, she was misclassified as the perpetrator of a sexual assault — not as a victim — attacked by an inmate, denied medication and punched in the face by a guard.
Jane Doe’s treatment amounted to “an absolute deprivation of her personal integrity,” her lawyer, Sean Buckley, said in an interview Thursday. “As a rape victim, the psychological trauma she experienced was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness.”
“And if you take out the sexual violation itself and you look at the underlying psychological trauma,” he added, “this is exactly what these defendants did to her again while she was still in recovery for her rape.”
According to the suit filed Monday in United States District Court in Houston, the woman began testifying in December against the man she said had choked, beaten and raped her two years earlier. The woman has bipolar disorder, the suit says, and did not finish her testimony.
In what the district attorney later called “an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation,” because of concern she would not return to the courtroom, a judge had her locked up until the trial resumed, even though she was not charged with a crime.
It was an unusual and risky decision that raises questions about the treatment of people with mental health disorders in the Texas justice system and about the wisdom of jailing someone already victimized and traumatized by a suspect the district attorney called “a serial rapist.”
Advocates for sexual assault survivors also said they feared the case could have a chilling effect on other victims’ willingness to speak up.[...]
The woman was sent to St. Joseph’s Medical Center for 10 days after she broke down on the stand, the lawyer said. There was no follow-up after she was released from the hospital, and she was handcuffed, arrested and sent to jail on Dec. 18, Mr. Buckley said.
During that time, the woman was taken to the courtroom to testify against Mr. Hendricks. He was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences without parole. A judge allowed her to go home on Jan. 14 — 27 days after she was jailed.
In a video statement that has been uploaded to YouTube, Devon Anderson, the county district attorney, said the rape victim had suffered through a life-threatening mental health crisis and had expressed her intention during the trial not to testify again.
“If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free, and her life would have been at risk while homeless on the street,” Ms. Anderson says in the video. [....]
Mr. Sullivan said the woman would have been placed in a separate cell had the court ordered that she be kept separate from the general population, but no such order was issued.
The lawsuit says that when the woman was processed, she was accidentally classified as having committed a sexual crime, leading to negative treatment from the jail’s medical staff members who didn’t believe her protests.
She was in at least two physical confrontations while in jail. On Dec. 23, an inmate pushed her to the ground and repeatedly slammed her head into the concrete floor, according to the lawsuit. On Jan. 8, she suffered “an acute psychiatric episode,” the lawsuit says.
The prison guards’ response caused her to have a panic attack, during which “she became hysterical and physically uncontrollable,” the suit said. At one point, a guard punched her, causing a bruised eye socket, the lawsuit said.[...]