Ignored by Officials, TX Prisoner Secretly Collected DNA Evidence on Guard Who Raped Him, ACLU Lawsuit Reveals

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
October 8, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON–The American Civil Liberties Union today filed its second lawsuit in recent months over prisoner rape in Texas, charging that a guard who repeatedly raped a 22-year-old man was not punished until after the prisoner provided DNA evidence of the assaults.

After the first attack in October 2001, Nathan Essary secretly collected the guard’s semen on a handkerchief and mailed it to the United States Attorney in Houston. Texas Prison Prosecutor Kelly Weeks confirmed publicly in June that testing conducted on the sample linked Correctional Officer Michael Chaney to the assaults.

“”Despite the repeated sexual attacks and warnings of deadly retaliation if he told, Nathan Essary summoned the courage to report Officer Chaney’s criminal behavior to prison officials,”” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

“”Unfortunately, the response of prison officials was disastrous. Essary was told to return to work in the prison laundry with the guard who assaulted him, where he was sexually assaulted again.””

According to the ACLU lawsuit, Essary, a past victim of a prison gang-rape, was ordered to masturbate and perform oral sex on Officer Chaney on multiple occasions in October 2001.

The ACLU complaint describes how the assaults on Essary escalated along with the threats. His attempts to refuse Officer Chaney’s demands for sex were met with warnings that Chaney would make his life a “”living hell”” and would even pay prison gangs to have him killed.

Melinda Essary, Nathan’s mother, said the attacks on her son filled her with despair. “My son may not be perfect, but he doesn’t deserve to be raped in prison,”” she said. “”I thought the people who worked in prisons were supposed to prevent attacks, not cause them. What is going on in Texas prisons that lets this kind of thing happen to my boy?”

Texas was identified as the worst state in the nation for prisoner rape in Human Rights Watch’s 2001 book-length report, No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons.

“”Without lawyers to carry their most serious problems to a federal judge, prisoners are dependent on prison administrators and supervisors to protect them,”” said Meredith Martin Rountree, director of the ACLU of Texas’s Prison and Jail Accountability Project.

“”Meaningful investigation of prisoners’ complaints and requests for help is essential to replacing federal oversight with internal monitoring and management,”” added Rountree, who was involved in the settlement of the case of David Ruiz, a Texas inmate whose 1972 prison conditions lawsuit ushered in two decades of federal oversight of the Texas prison system. That oversight recently ended in June.

In January 2002, Officer Chaney resigned from his post at the Department of Criminal Justice’s Luther Unit after being arrested for raping Essary. This past May he was indicted for the attacks.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages on Essary’s behalf as well as court monitoring of the prison’s responses to prisoner complaints, particularly as they relate to prison staff at the Luther Unit within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where Essary was attacked.

In April, the ACLU’s National Prison Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of another Texas prisoner, Roderick Johnson. Over the course of 18 months, Johnson was sexually enslaved and repeatedly raped by Texas prison gangs. His multiple pleas to prison administrators to protect him from the attacks were ignored and the allegations of rape were never seriously investigated. (See press release and complaint at /cpredirect/14680?SubsiteID=48)

Available data on the prevalence of prisoner rape, particularly rape committed by guards with male victims, is limited. Current legislation in Congress, co-sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, would authorize the Justice Department to conduct annual reviews and collect statistics on prisoner rape. The fate of this widely supported bill is uncertain in the waning days of the Congressional session.

Today’s lawsuit, Nathan Essary v. Michael Chaney, et al., was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas by Winter, Amy Fettig and Craig Cowie of the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Rountree of the ACLU of Texas.

The ACLU complaint is online at:

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