A former Harris County jailer must face claims that his rape of a 15-year-old detainee was caught on videotape, a federal judge ruled.
In a November 2012 complaint on behalf of their daughter M.S.H., Michelle and Danny Hall sued Harris County; the executive director of its juvenile probation department, Thomas Brooks; and former correctional officer Robert Robinson.
The couple said Robinson took a special interest in M.S.H. during her two-month detainment in downtown Houston’s Harris County Juvenile Justice Center.
Robinson, then 28, was assigned to the jail’s boys unit but visited M.S.H. in the girls unit up to three times a week, according to the complaint.
“The grooming of M.S.H. began with Robinson’s visits in which he gave M.S.H. food and candy,” the complaint states. “His visits quickly escalated with quid pro quo requests that exchanged gifts for genital fondling and touching.”
The Halls said that the lack of rules at Harris County juvenile jail allowed Robinson to have unfettered access to their daughter.
“On or about May 23, 2012, on the eve of M.S.H.’s transfer, Robinson’s harassment culminated into the rape of a minor,” the complaint states. “Robinson, aware of M.S.H.’s pending transfer, told her that he would visit her the night before she was to leave.
“As per the usual and customary practice of the facility, Robinson was allowed to abandon his post on the 5th floor of the boys’ unit and enter the girls’ unit undisturbed. He was allowed to enter M.S.H.’s room, with the lights out, and rape her. Unknown to Robinson, the rape was captured on video.”
The Halls seek $2 million damages for civil rights violations, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Harris County moved to dismiss the civil rights claims against Brooks and Robinson as duplicative.
The county claimed that the state-law claims against Robinson and Brooks also fail since the Texas Tort Claims Act mandates dismissal of employees from a suit when claims are brought against both a governmental entity and its workers.
Though U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. agreed as to the claims against Brooks, the judge found that the Halls had sued Robinson in his individual capacity.
Any claims against the officer in his official capacity must otherwise be dismissed, according to the ruling.
“Plaintiffs assert that the Section 1983 claims against Robinson are brought in his individual capacity,” Werlein wrote. “As Section 1983 does not preclude a plaintiff from bringing an action against a governmental official in his individual capacity, these claims survive.”
In a footnote, Werlein noted a claim from the first amended complaint that Robinson has confessed to the rape and is on out on bail awaiting trial on sexual assault charges.
The claims against Brooks failed since they were brought against him in his official capacity, according to the ruling.