Rape Victim Jailed in Houston: What’s Being Done After the Outcry

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

By Becky FogelJuly 27, 2016 10:47 am|

More law enforcement officers have been killed in Texas than any other state this year. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 14 people have been killed, including the five officers shot and killed in the downtown Dallas police ambush earlier this month.

And: You’ve likely heard this story out of Harris County: “A rape victim jailed for a month, her family left feeling hopeless – ‘I tried my best to get her out of there and it was horrible.’” Houston’s NBC station looked into why a 25-year-old mentally ill woman was held in jail for a month to ensure her testimony against a serial rapist. She was imprisoned after she broke down on the stand.

The station’s report drew a direct response from Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson. Her initial reaction was to defend what her office did. “It bears repeating this was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation,” Anderson said in a videotaped statement. “There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance at trial.”

But the head of a mental health group says there were alternatives. Holly Doggett, executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Texas), says her organization asked for a meeting with the Harris County District Attorney’s office to figure out what happened.

“I think all of our initial reaction was disbelief that this could happen,” Doggett says, after hearing about the imprisoned rape victim, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. “Especially in a city like Houston, in Harris County. Given that Harris County actually has a mental health unit at the Harris County jail. It makes it even more incredible that this woman beyond being jailed for such an outrageous reason wasn’t put in the mental health unit but was jailed in the general population.”

Doggett says how this woman was treated is part of a bigger problem in the state. “The prison is the largest provider of mental health services in the state,” she says, “and there’s something very, very wrong with that picture.”

Next month, a conference in Austin will train law enforcement on how to work with the mentally ill.

“(This conference will help officers learn) how to work with people, how to deescalate the situation, hopefully how to make referrals so instead of a person winding up in jail they end up in a mental facility,” Doggett says. “Jail diversion is a critical part of our public policy platform as we look to the 2017 legislative season.”

The rape victim did ultimately testify against her attacker, sending him to prison for two life sentences.

And: Houston-based Texas Children’s Hospital is opening a Zika clinic for pregnant women. The clinic, intended for women who show signs of having contracted Zika, is the first of its kind in Texas.