Rape victim who had breakdown on witness stand was jailed to ensure future testimony, lawsuit says

By Debra Cassens Weiss (ABA Journal)
July 21, 2016

A woman who had a breakdown while testifying against her alleged rapist was jailed for nearly a month because prosecutors wanted to ensure her future testimony, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Houston.

District Attorney Devon Anderson of Harris County, Texas, issued a videotaped statement defending the prosecutor who sought to jail the woman as a material witness, report the Houston Chronicle, the Washington Post and Click2Houston.

Anderson said the rape victim, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, was going through a “life-threatening mental health crisis” and told prosecutors she would not give future testimony. “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 said.

The woman, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was homeless in Houston when she was assaulted by a serial rapist, her mother told the Houston Chronicle. She agreed to testify at trial, and was at first hospitalized after experiencing the breakdown. She was released on Dec. 18 and taken to the Harris County Jail after prosecutors obtained a writ of attachment to jail her as a material witness.

The lawsuit alleges Jane Doe was mistakenly booked into the jail as a sexual-assault defendant and placed in the general population, the Washington Post reports. She was attacked by another inmate who repeatedly slammed her head into the floor and was not given the psychiatric help she needed, according to the suit.

Jane Doe also got into a fight with jail guards during a psychiatric episode, and one of them responded to her punch by hitting her in the face, the suit says. A charge of assaulting a jailer was dropped after the woman returned to court in January to testify.

The man she helped convict, Keith Hendricks, was sentenced to two life sentences on Jan. 15.

Jane Doe’s lawyer, Sean Buckley, tells Click2Houston that his client was living in an apartment at the time she was picked up to testify against Hendricks.