Jailed rape victim who inspired Jenny's Law sues local hospital

HOUSTON – A rape victim who was jailed during a trial to ensure her testimony is suing Saint Joseph's Medical Center and the doctor who examined her.

The woman we call “Jenny” accused the hospital of conspiring with Harris County prosecutors when she was put in jail after failing to give testimony on the witness stand about her attack.

READ: Sheila Jackson Lee to call on attorney general to open federal investigation into jailed rape victim

Former District Attorney Devon Anderson said at the time that Jenny’s prosecutor, Nick Socias, tried to find a mental health care facility for her, but overcrowding made jail the only option. 
According to court documents, Anderson stated that Jenny did not "receive proper care in the Harris County jail," and "the system broke down in the jail."

READ: Prosecutor who handled jailed rape victim case, 36 others, fired by new DA Kim Ogg

After Jenny suffered a breakdown, she was hospitalized, but prosecutors got a judge to order her to be held in jail over Christmas so she would return to testify.

Jenny was beaten up in jail, punched by a guard, and some jail staff thought she was a rapist and not a victim, her family said.

Her ordeal led to a new law, “Jenny’s Law,” to protect witnesses.

READ: Mother’s fight leads to 'Jenny’s Law'

The law went into effect Sept. 1 and gives victims of crime jailed for their testimony extra protection and legal representation. It requires a hearing for any witness held in jail on a writ of attachment, which is a legal document giving the county permission to hold a witness who has refused to testify. 

Channel 2 reached out to Saint Joseph's to get their reaction to the lawsuit. As of Tuesday morning, there was no response.

What you need to know: Jenny's lawsuit

Who filed the lawsuit?

A mentally ill rape victim identified only as “Jenny.” In 2014, “Jenny” was homeless, struggling with mental illness and was raped. “Jenny” suffered a mental breakdown on the stand while testifying against her attacker. She was initially admitted to St. Joseph’s hospital for treatment, then held in the Harris County jail on a so-called “witness bond.” Chanel 2 Investigates reported prosecutors at the time said given “Jenny’s” mental illness, placing her in jail was the only option to ensure she would return to court to complete her testimony. “Jenny” is suing the county.

What is the new lawsuit?

“Jenny’s” attorney, Sean Buckley, filed a new lawsuit against St. Joseph’s hospital. Buckley stated hospital staff should have made sure “Jenny” was receiving the same type of mental health care at the jail, as she was at the hospital. Buckley said “Jenny” was not stable enough to simply be discharged from the hospital the day she was taken to jail.

“They could not have discharged her that day, they could only have transferred her to another inpatient psychiatric facility,” said Buckley. “St. Joseph doctors had an obligation to call any receiving physicians and ensure that there would be a continuity of care.”

As KPRC reported, “Jenny” was placed in the jail’s general population, got into fights with an inmate and a guard and some jail staff members were even confused as to whether she was a witness or a suspect.

“A phone call, some kind of diligence from Saint Joseph would have gone a long way to preventing this mess,” said Buckley.

Officials with St. Joseph’s declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.

What happened with the rape case?

“Jenny” returned to court to complete her testimony and Keith Hendricks received two life sentences. Her case also led to the passage of “Jenny’s Law.” The law was written by State Sen. John Whitmire and put several layers of protection in place any time a victim or witness is jailed to ensure testimony.

About the Authors:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”