FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON- A 25-year-old Texas prisoner, who was repeatedly raped by a prison guard with a history of sexual assault, accepted a settlement in which his rapist and the assistant warden who failed to protect him agreed to pay substantial money damages, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.
"Today's settlement victory provides hope for the untold men and women raped in prison by officers and staff," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU's National Prison Project and the prisoner's attorney.
"Victims of sexual assault in prison often feel powerless in opposing their attackers and must overcome tremendous intimidation and fear of retaliation before they can even report abuse. Nathan Essary's success in fighting back provides a powerful reminder that abuse of prisoners will not go unpunished."
According to an ACLU lawsuit, Nathan Essary was ordered to masturbate and perform oral sex on Officer Michael Chaney at the Luther Unit in Navasota, Texas on multiple occasions in October 2001. Essary reported the abuse to Luther Unit Assistant Warden Jerry Barratt, who promised him protection. However, that same day Essary was forced to return to work at the prison laundry where Chaney supervised him and sexually assaulted him again.
During two separate attacks, Essary secretly collected Chaney's ejaculate on a handkerchief and mailed a sample to the United States Attorney in Houston. After DNA testing on the sample linked Chaney to the sexual assaults, Prison Prosecutor Kelly Weeks issued an affidavit for Chaney's arrest in January 2002.
When the ACLU filed its lawsuit against Chaney and Barratt on Essary's behalf in October 2002, information emerged that Chaney had sexually harassed and abused other prisoners at the Luther Unit, but complaints from prisoners to prison staff were repeatedly ignored. In a statement filed in federal court, former prisoner Garrett Cunningham said he was anally raped in the same laundry area one year prior to Essary's assault. After reporting the rape to prison staff, Cunningham was transferred from his job in the laundry to a position in the room next door. Chaney continued to harass Cunningham but complaints against the officer were never investigated.
"Victims of prison rape suffer at the hands of both their attackers and the administrators who choose to ignore their pleas for protection," said Meredith Martin Rountree, Director of the ACLU of Texas' Prison and Jail Accountability Project and co-counsel in the lawsuit. "The Texas Department of Criminal Justice's inaction is intolerable and unconstitutional."
A separate prisoner rape lawsuit filed by the National Prison Project on behalf of Roderick Johnson, a gay former prisoner who was repeatedly raped by Texas prison gangs, won a favorable ruling in September from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court found that prison officials can be sued for damages due to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Johnson's case will go to trial in July 2005.
Today's case, Nathan Essary v. Michael Chaney, et al., was settled in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas by Winter of the ACLU's National Prison Project and Rountree of the ACLU of Texas' Prison and Jail Accountability Project.