JDI IN THE NEWS - 2004

Brent Wistrom, Elusive Evidence in Rape Cases; Allred Investigation Not Accurate, ACLU Says, Times Record News, February 27, 2004.

The American Civil Liberties Union Thursday disputed an internal prison investigation that prompted a Wichita County grand jury to no-bill 49 Allred Unit inmates accused of raping and prostituting another inmate.

The organization represents Roderick Keith Johnson in a widely publicized federal civil lawsuit. The group called a 70-page Texas Department of Criminal Justice report "flawed" and "a whitewash intended as a cover-up."

"It was an extremely sloppy investigation," said Kara Gotsch, a spokeswoman for the ACLU's National Prison Project in Washington.

The TDCJ report followed Johnson's allegations that he was traded as an unwilling sex slave among numerous prison gangs and guards ignored his pleas for transfer to a safer area.

The ACLU said Johnson never identified the 49 inmates identified in the report and was never asked to testify or verify the suspects.

Investigators have said suspects' names came from interviews with Johnson, but the ACLU said because most were identified by nicknames, not all of the suspects were those Johnson accused.

The report claims Johnson had consensual sex with other inmates and that his allegations were part of a scheme to make money.

Attempts to contact TDJC Investigator Tanya Perry Thursday were unsuccessful.

In a previous article, Perry said: "We looked at everything, we left no stone unturned and there was nothing to support that this allegation occurred."

Allred Unit Warden Danny Horton was unavailable for comment Thursday.

In the report, obtained by the Times Record News, prison officials identified numerous prison gangs and reported on the workings of prostitution among gangs.

"If (Johnson) belonged to the Gangster Disciples, he would not have been sold to the highest bidder, but he would have been used by all members within that group," a security threat group officer reported.

He said if Johnson "would have been prostituted, that he would have been sold to non Gangster Disciple members for the highest price."

Instead, the officer reported, Johnson "was having sex with various ethnic groups in open areas that could have been interpreted as a sign of disrespect between the various groups."

"Gangs control life in the Allred Unit," Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said in a press release. "As a gay man, Mr. Johnson's only hope of surviving his incarceration was to submit to sexual slavery."

In interviews, more than 100 inmates, guards and investigators said Johnson had consensual sex with the other prisoners.

But many of the inmates were identified as being members of the scores of prison gangs identified in the report, a fact prisoner advocacy groups say can result in false testimony because of fear of retaliation.

"They have an understanding of the culture and what's happening, but they're not doing anything to stop it," Gotsch said. "That's what's mind boggling."

Producing witnesses and evidence to convict someone of rape is often difficult, if not impossible, said Lara Stemple, executive director of the Los Angeles-based organization Stop Prisoner Rape.

"It's no less of a problem when it occurs behind bars," she said. "It can often come down to one person's words versus another's ... it does change in a prison context. There is a lot of fear in the prison system about being a narc or a rat."

Stemple said issues of consent also become blurry in cases of "protective pairing," a system where weaker prisoners perform sex acts in return for protection.

"It's still a very coercive situation and the true element of consent is clearly missing," she said.

The prison environment also plays a role.

"I think society has learned that the rape of women is not acceptable," she said. "But the rape of men is not something we should care about ... and it's even thought of as funny."

It's especially difficult for gay men in prison, she said.

"The homophobia that's present within some prison facilities definitely leads to callousness toward the rape of gay men," she said. "They think that because they're gay they asked for it. We've heard reports that screams in the night literally go unanswered."