Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Assistant warden calls prisons' sex assault investigations lax

WICHITA FALLS - Prison employees investigating inmates' complaints of sexual assaults rarely talked to the suspected attackers, checked their criminal background or tried to obtain other evidence, an assistant warden testified Tuesday.

Richard Wathen was the first witness in the federal civil trial stemming from a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against him and six other Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials at the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls.

Roderick Keith Johnson, a gay burglary convict in prison from 2000 to 2003, says the officials refused to protect him from numerous rapes, extortion and being sold as a sex slave — despite the "life endangerment claims" and grievances he filed every few months during his 18 months at the Allred Unit.

But the seven prison officials' attorney said there was no proof that Johnson was raped, and that he wanted to be placed in a "safekeeping" area for vulnerable inmates only because some of his love interests were there.

Celamaine Cunniff of the Texas Attorney General's Office said Johnson's complaints were inconsistent, sometimes saying he needed help and other times that he feared what could happen to him.

Cunniff said the plaintiff would not be able to prove that prison officials knew about the assaults, disregarded them and did not care — the definition of deliberately indifferent, an element in the suit.

Wathen and some of the other defendants were on a committee that decided whether to grant inmates' requests to be moved to safer areas.

See our complete collection of bad behavior at the hands of prison and jail guards: Where did they learn that?

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