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Civil Suit Filed in Alleged Rape at Houston Grand Opera (UPDATED)

Some readers have commented on our use of the full name of the plaintiff, who is no longer a minor. We should have offered more context in the initial report as to why we included Dewalt's name, and why she and her attorneys chose not to file under her initials (or as a "Jane Doe") as is generally the practice in these cases. That was to come in a Friday update, after a formal interview with Dewalt's attorneys. One of those attorneys, Rick Prieto, tells us, "She is no longer a minor, so she filed under her own name." Gwen Dobrowski, another of her attorneys, tells us, "It was appropriate, under the circumstances, for Amber Dewalt's full name to be published, and not the anonymous 'Jane Doe.'" Again, we apologize for not making it clear right away that we had already been in touch with her attorneys, and that Dewalt wanted this filed transparently. Without that context, it may have looked like we were acting against Dewalt's wishes, or in conflict with our own policies. We hope this helps clarify things.

A woman who claims she was raped at age 16, while working as an extra last year for a Houston Grand Opera performance, is suing the HGO, the City of Houston, the Wortham Center and her alleged attacker in Harris County District Civil Court.

Amber Dewalt, now 17 18, says another extra, Gerald Guidry, raped her three times in January 2011 at the Wortham Center while the two were part of a production of Dead Man Walking. Guidry was charged in April 2011 with sexual assault of a child, but the charge was dropped after a grand jury declined to indict. [The Houston Press does not ordinarily name plaintiffs in civil suits alleging the rape of a minor. In this case, the plaintiff did not request confidentiality and the suit was not filed as a "Jane Doe" or by initials only; we will update this story after a scheduled interview with her attorneys.]

According to the suit, Guidry, 22 at the time, "began to stalk and make sexual comments to Dewalt at work. Left unguarded, the unfortunate eventually happened -- Guidry raped Dewalt....The first instance involved Guidry dragging Dewalt by her arm into the girls' dressing room where he forced her to perform oral sex on him. The second time, Guidry saw Dewalt by a snack machine and dragged her again by her arm into the men's restroom where he penetrated her and forced her to perform oral sex on him. The third time, Guidry followed Dewalt into a practice room where he once again raped her. The third time was particularly violent, causing Dewalt to bleed while in the shower later that night, alarming her mother that something horrible had just happened to her daughter."

Guidry referred us to his attorney, Cynthia Rayfield, who also handled his criminal case. She did not respond to repeated requests for comment. A spokesman for the Houston Grand Opera also declined to comment.

The suit claims that Dewalt's mother, whose name is not provided, "contacted HGO's General Director, Anthony Freud," after the alleged rapes, but was unable to reach him. She allegedly heard from his secretary, "who responded by saying, 'These are huge accusations being made,' and hung up the phone. Eventually, Melissa Kiesel, HGO's Human Resources Director, called back to investigate, at which time she was provided all the salient facts; however, thereafter, no follow-up notification was ever given to Dewalt or her mother. In fact, almost unbelievably, Guidry continued to work with HGO through the production of Dead Man Walking."

A spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office told us in an e-mail that "once a case has been no-billed by a grand jury (in secret proceedings) the person is no longer charged with a crime. We cannot discuss the case, and we also cannot talk about anything the grand jurors may have discussed/debated."

The suit accuses HGO of failing to supervise and ensure the safety of minors working as extras. Other defendants include The Wackenhut Corporation and AlliedBarton Security Holdings, who are accused of not providing adequate security at the Wortham Center; and the Houston First Corporation (formerly known as the Houston Convention Center Hall Corporation), which manages ten city-owned buildings, including the Wortham. We've left messages seeking comments from the defendants.


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