Texas prison teacher says inmate raped her at understaffed prison
The teacher tearfully called on Gov. Greg Abbott to charge the inmate she says raped her at the facility, which has has a 25 percent vacancy rate for COs
By Keri Blakinger
MIDWAY, Texas — A Texas prison teacher tearfully called on Gov. Greg Abbott to charge the inmate she says raped her at an understaffed lock-up north of Huntsville.
Nicole Truelove plans to file a lawsuit against the state over the Nov. 13 sex assault inside a Ferguson Unit classroom with no working cameras and no guards in sight, she said at a Thursday press conference in Houston.
"This never should have happened; it could have been easily avoided," her attorney David Lindsay said. "And if changes aren't made by the Department of Criminal Justice, this will happen again."
The 2,400-inmate unit in unincorporated Madison County has a 25 percent vacancy rate for guards, according to TDCJ data.
"Whoever made the decision to understaff that unit, they should be held accountable," Lindsay said.
The department said it is conducting an internal review and has transferred the prisoner to another facility. The 25-year-old has a history of drug and burglary convictions.
"While correctional settings present unique challenges, the department is committed to providing a safe work environment for all employees," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said.
Truelove had only been on the job a few days when she spotted an inmate masturbating in class. After repeated warnings, she wrote him up.
But when class let out, the four-time felon stayed back, hiding behind the door.
The officers assigned to the area were nowhere in sight when the violent prisoner allegedly grabbed Truelove by the hair and slammed her against the door before assaulting her and threatening her children.
The new teacher reported the attack immediately and went to the hospital for a rape kit, she said Thursday.
"Yet there has not been one charge filed," she said. "Mr. Abbott, when will these charges be filed?"
Lindsay and co-counsel Randall Kallinen blamed unit security shortfalls for the attack. There were no cameras inside the classroom, and the lack of windows in the solid door made it a possible hiding place.
"Allowing violent felons to masturbate in front female employees creates one of the most hostile working atmospheres I have ever heard of," Kallinen said. "Combined with known blind spots and lack of guards it is the most irresponsible behavior imaginable."
Cheri Siegelin, president of the Huntsville-based Texas Correctional Employees union, said there are staffing policies in place to ensure adequate supervision.
"Can there be a correctional officer stationed in every classroom or next to every teacher's desk? In a perfect world that would be nice, but the answer here is no," she said.
"It's no secret that staffing is low and these inmates are not dumb or blind to it - they will use it to their advantage in any way possible."
Inmate-on-staff violence has risen slightly in recent years, TDCJ data shows.
By the end of September, Texas prisons had seen 67 serious staff assaults in 2017. Last year, the total reported major assaults on staff numbered more than 100 for the first time in at least 10 years.
Former union chief Lance Lowry pointed to the latest incident as evidence of the staffing shortages he warned about repeatedly in recent months, including during the hurricane and in the aftermath of a failed death row confession plot that forced the state to push back one killer's execution date.
"It doesn't surprise me that an incident of a sexual assault occurred against staff," he said. "Staff are sexually violated just about every day as far as inmates exposing themselves."
In addition to the high vacancy numbers, Lowry cited a 40 percent turnover rate as a troubling contributor to the problem.
"That leaves a massive amount of inexperience on that unit," he said. "This isn't the first employee to be sexually assaulted."
©2017 the Houston Chronicle