Making a Point

Rodney Hulin died after hanging himself in prison. Three years later, his family gets some money from the state.

On January 22, 1996, Rodney Hulin was found hanging in his jail cell. The 17-year-old claimed he had been repeatedly raped in prison, and when this didn't stop, he decided to die. The lawsuit his family and the ACLU filed made national news: The Houston Press, The New York Times and The Nation all ran stories. Those outraged by his death said that even though he was a felon, he didn't deserve to be raped; the state should have kept him safe.

This spring brought some closure to the case. George W. Bush signed a settlement April 26, cutting a $215,000 check from the governor's discretionary fund.

"I'm hoping it'll wake people up enough to save people," says Rodney's mother, Linda Bruntmyer. "To let them know that this does happen in the prison system. Teach them that it can happen."

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Hulin's relatives took the $215,000 because it's the largest amount they could have received and gotten the money now, says the family attorney Robert Rosenberg. If they had wanted more than $300,000, the state could have appealed and taken a lot of time to send the check. The family wanted to be finished.

"In terms of prison litigation that's an enormous amount of money," Rosenberg says. "They made their point. That amount is big enough that it is an acknowledgement that a wrong has been committed. It wasn't a nuisance value -- that's usually a few thousand dollars saying, 'Here, go away.' "

Still, the state admits no wrongdoing, says Carl Reynolds, general counsel for the state of Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

And since Hulin's death, prison policies haven't changed. So there's no guarantee that this same thing won't happen again.

Rodney Daniel Hulin walked into the Randall County jail in Canyon, Texas, a small-time arsonist convicted of throwing Molotov cocktails at a neighbor's house. In 1995 his sentence was eight years, but he figured he'd be out in a year and a half with good behavior.

The prison system started making mistakes with Rodney as soon as he got there, says attorney Rosenberg. Rodney had been in a mental institution, but they classified him as psychologically sound; without conducting a psychiatric evaluation, they took him off his antidepressants.

Rodney complained that he was depressed; they told him he was just hot. Rodney said he needed his Paxil; prison doctor Ronald Davis said he had never heard of Paxil.

Less than a month after he arrived at the Clemens unit in Brazoria, Rodney claimed he was raped. The physician's assistant found tears in his rectum and noted that the muscle tone was loose. He didn't perform a rape test, but he gave Rodney an AIDS test. The physician's assistant said Rodney could just be constipated and gave him Metamucil.

Raped twice more, Rodney made three requests to be placed in protective custody. They were all denied.

Rodney never was a good kid. He used to twist his brother's and sister's ankles trying to break their legs. He wired his little brother to the stereo trying to electrocute him (Rynell has scars as thick as a pencil on his arms). Rodney killed the neighbor's cat with a blowgun. He broke a neighbor boy's arm.

Rodney tied his brother up and masturbated on him. When he was taken to the juvenile detention center, he masturbated in front of other boys.

After his mom found him dancing with a knife blade to his belly, she tried to get him help. At Big Springs State Hospital, his diagnosis included: severe conduct disorder, personality disorder, multiple personality disorder, depression, emotionally disturbed and identity abuse.

In prison, Rodney asked for psychiatric help. Without having met him, the psychologist at Clemens said he didn't need any. The social worker, Barbara Stubbs, referred Rodney to the psychologist; the chart says Rodney "didn't show" for his appointment. He met with Stubbs five minutes after his scheduled appointment. They were in the same clinic -- why didn't she walk him down the hall, his lawyer asks. Why wasn't he ever rescheduled?

Rodney went to the infirmary with bruises on his body. He said other inmates were beating him up. He sent his mother his broken glasses and said he needed $10 a week to pay his cell mate to keep from getting hurt.

Then he wrote his parents that he had been raped.
Linda Bruntmyer called the warden, and he told her inmates rape each other and her son needed to be a big boy, she remembers. She told him to go to hell and hung up.

Then she locked herself in her bedroom with a coffeepot and screamed and cried for three days. She had been raped when she was 16, and that's all she could remember.

Her husband took their other kids to a motel. She told Rodney to pray.

The warden at the time, James Byrd, said an investigation couldn't be conducted because Rodney refused to name his attacker. Not true. An interoffice memo from Officer Pablo Salazar says that Rodney claimed he was threatened physically and sexually by his cell mate; he names names and gives details. (Salazar gave the memo to Rosenberg, himself. Initially, the state refused to recognize it as evidence.) Also, the medical records say Rodney told the physician's assistant it was his cell mate who attacked him. And he told three guards and the investigator for his second rape that his cell mate attacked him.

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