HOUSTON – U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee says she will call on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a federal investigation into the case of a mentally ill rape victim who was jailed after she had a mental breakdown on the witness stand.
The Texas Democrat's request follows a Channel 2 investigation that exposed a rape victim named Jenny who was jailed for 27 days after her breakdown during the trial of the man accused of raping her.
Jackson Lee’s spokesman Mike McQuerry said she will hold a news conference Saturday afternoon to talk more about the case and her call for an investigation. He said she will release a copy of her letter to Lynch.
On Friday, County Judge Ed Emmett called for state lawmakers to change how the state allows judges to put innocent crime victims in jail just to assure they testify at court.
“It’s (a) horrible situation. There is no possible way to gloss over how terrible this was for Jenny,” Emmett said. “The fact that someone who is a victim, who has committed no crime, is put in the jail at all to me is just wrong. I don’t think anybody can justify that but that’s what happened under the law."
Emmett said the law that allows this should be changed.
“Absolutely,” he said. “If someone had introduced a bill like that when I was there, I would have said this is a no-brainer, of course we ought to do that.”
Emmitt — who served four terms in the Texas House — offered an idea that there should be another county facility for certain witnesses.
“If they don’t have a mental health condition you don’t want to put them in a mental health facility but clearly there should be a small facility where people like that could be accommodated comfortably. A jail cell is not a comfortable place,” he said.
He did not say how that would be funded.
“You know I could see a Jenny’s law in Austin. Frankly, I’m surprised no legislator has jumped up and said we’re going to deal with this. I think they will," he said.
Emmett says the county’s “jail diversion program” has taken hundreds of mentally ill people out of the jail. It helps repeat inmates suffering from a mental illness.
The program provides treatment for people whose real issue is mental health not criminal justice related, he said.
While hundreds have been helped, Emmet said, there are thousands more the program has not yet reached.
If you have a tip about this story, email or call investigative reporter Jace Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 832-493-3951.