Civil trial opened in Texas

Civil trial opened Tuesday in Texas where a former inmate is suing prison authorities for ignoring his pleas for protection from rapists.

Roderick Keith Johnson, who was in prison from 2000 to 2003 for burglary, was repeatedly ignored when he wrote letters to prison officials seeking to be transferred, his attorney Tim Hoffman said.

Seven prison officials in Texas allegedly told Johnson to fight or get a prison boyfriend who could defend him, the attorney also said. Attorneys for the prison officials said there was no evidence of rape, but Johnson, 37, said he was raped almost daily over an 18-month period. He is seeking unspecified damages against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials in the suit filed in 2002 on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Attorneys for the prison officials said Johnson wanted to be placed in an area of the prison where he could be with his lovers, and that prison officials never had evidence of rape. They also said Johnson's letters were inconsistent, sometimes saying he needed help and other times saying nothing had happened to him.

Celamaine Cunniff of the Texas Attorney General's Office acknowledged in opening statements that the unit where Johnson was imprisoned is dangerous, but said employees try to keep inmates safe. Last year the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans dropped eight of the lawsuit's 15 original defendants, including the department's executive director and the prison unit's senior warden. But the court ruled that the others - two women and five men - could be sued for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Johnson, a Navy veteran, was sent to prison after violating the terms of his probation from a 10-year sentence in 1992 for burglarizing a house. He said that, as the abuse escalated, he repeatedly filed complaints and talked to a prison committee about being moved to another unit or area safer for gay and other vulnerable inmates. But prison officials refused to move him until the ACLU's National Prison Project intervened, the ACLU said. Several prisoners were expected to testify in the civil trial. Last year, a Wichita Falls grand jury did not indict 49 prisoners Johnson had accused of rape, AP reports.

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