The French Robertson Unit guard was conducting bed checks at 2:40 a.m. December 19, 1998, when convicted rapist Jesse Trevino Cortez, 22, opened his cell door, grabbed her and held her hostage for two hours, prison officials said.
"We don't know how Cortez managed to open his cell door," said Latham Boone, chief prosecutor for the TDC's Special Prosecution Unit [the Texas state prison system maintains its own prosecutors on staff.] "That is something we will be trying to determine."
Unnamed prison employees complained to the Abilene Reporter-News that the prison has had trouble with faulty cell door locks, and accused prison officials of trying to cover up the incident by issuing a press release that failed to mention the sexual assault.
The French Robertson Unit has had a lengthy history of unchecked brutality with countless prisoners beaten, shot and killed by guards since the prison opened in 1995 [no Texas prison has been the subject of more brutality articles in PLN ].
Ironically enough, on December 1, 1998, TDC officials announced that the French Robertson Unit was awarded the "prestigious prison accreditation" of the American Correctional Association, the first maximum-security prison in Texas to do so. An "extensive three-day audit" found the French Robertson Unit met 94.1 percent of the ACA's 484 standards, a mark considered "exceptional" for a large maximum-security prison.
"It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be," Assistant Warden James Mayfield proudly proclaimed (two weeks before one of his prisoners somehow opens a locked cell door and attacks a guard). "We're doing a good job."
Twenty-four hours after the French Robertson assault, 80 state prisons (and 26 substance abuse centers and state jails) were locked down for a "shakedown". TDC spokesperson Larry Todd said the system-wide lockdown wasn't related to the French Robertson incident. He also denied that it had anything to do with the dramatic Thanksgiving Day death row escape of Martin Gurule.
"We are using this system-wide lockdown as a management tool," Todd told reporters, "to ensure that we clean out all contraband before our heaviest visitation period of the year [Christmas) begins."
APLN correspondent offers a different perspective: "The lockdown and system-wide shakedown is a political reaction by presidential aspirant and current governor George W. Bush to the death row escapes and, according to [Houston radio personality] Ray Hill: 1) the rape of a female guard at the French Roberston Unit; 2) what Hill described as a 'mini-riot' at the Huntsville Unit ('The Walls') which involved at least 150 prisoners; and 3) the escape of 11 juveniles from a Texas Youth Commission facility. Governor George wants to do something 'decisive' to show the press he's doing something to 'get the prison system under control.'"
Most of the 106 prison units were off lockdown in 1-2 days. The entire prison system was "back to normal" within a week.
Austin American-States- man, Dallas Morning News, Abilene Reporter-News, Reader Mail
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