A homeless rape victim has launched a lawsuit against US police who put her behind bars for nearly a month after she suffered a mental breakdown on the witness stand.
Prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, say they decided to imprison the woman in order to ensure she would return to court to complete her testimony against Keith Hendricks, the man accused of raping and violently choking her.
The woman, identified only as Jenny, suffers from bipolar disorder. Court transcripts show she was incoherent, broke down and ran from court saying she’d never return during her appearance at the trial on December 8, reports local station KPRC2.
After a brief stay in St. Joseph Medical Center, Jenny was handcuffed, put in the back of a patrol car and taken to jail, her attorney Sean Buckley says.
There, she was placed in general population — where Hendricks was also being detained — and accidentally classified as a sexual assault perpetrator. She alleges this led to her being mistreated and denied medication by medical staff as well as being attacked by an inmate, who pushed her to the ground and repeatedly slammed her head into the concrete floor, reports The New York Times.
Jenny also claims to have been punched by a guard, after she allegedly hit his colleague (prosecutors dropped an assault charge over the incident).
The woman was ultimately released on January 14 after she completed her testimony against Hendricks.
“This young lady should never have been put in the Harris County jail,” Buckley said. “That is not an environment for a rape victim.”
In a video statement, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said, after a careful review of the case, she fully supports the prosecution’s actions.
“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,” Anderson says in the video.
“This was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation. There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance at trial.”
Buckley has filed a lawsuit against Harris County, Sheriff Ron Hickman, jail guard Taylor Adams and the prosecutor who asked that she be jailed, Nicholas Socias.
“As a rape victim, the psychological trauma she experienced was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness,” said Buckley, according to The New York Times.
“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.”
Hendricks was eventually sentenced to two life sentences without parole.
Feature image: KPRC2
Video: Mamamia staff discuss why rape should concern all of us, not just women.