Emma Lopez-Pound, left, during a recent television interview; Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales, one of five defendants in Lopez-Pound’s civil rights lawsuit.
As much of the United States inches toward tolerance for cannabis, some parts of the country remain locked in the archaic war on a plant. In Texas, a 26-year-old mother has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that after she was arrested for possessing less than a half gram of marijuana, a Harris County jailer raped her.
Emma Lopez-Pound was driving in Katy, Texas, on March 1 when she was pulled over for speeding a few blocks from her home. The officer claimed he could smell marijuana in her vehicle, and she admitted she was in possession of it, explaining she uses it sporadically to treat a seizure disorder.
“I have seizures and I don’t even smoke very much,” she said, as recorded by the officer’s’ body cam footage of the incident, local ABC 13 reported. But the officer claimed she was in a school zone and the .48 grams she had in a grinder was too much. “Unfortunately, you’re going to jail today,” he told her, according to the video.
The ordeal worsened after she was transferred to the Harris County Jail.
“I was moved to a holding cell by myself,” Lopez-Brown told ABC 13, explaining that a few hours later the jailer came into the cell. “After he asked me to get up and put me up against the wall and handcuffed me, he pulled my pants down and pulled his pants down and I froze. I asked him not to do it. He said, ‘If I say anything, he would do it again, and I wouldn’t be able to say anything.’”
Though she called out to female officers for help, she says they told her to wait to be processed.
“The fact she reported this in the jail, and no procedures were followed to confirm or refute (what happened) — that’s egregious in itself,” Mike Edwards, Lopez’ attorney told the Houston Chronicle.
After she was released from jail, she went to a hospital, where hospital staff collected a rape kit and called a Harris County investigator.
Lopez-Brown’s federal lawsuit names the arresting officer, the City of Katy, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales, his sheriff’s office and unnamed sheriff’s deputies. The civil rights suit claims she was the victim of “false arrest, excessive force, and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” the Chronicle reports. It also asserts she should not have been arrested in the first place as she was outside the school zone and should have been cited and released.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Department has acknowledged the alleged incident and lawsuit. According to a recent statement:
“The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an allegation that a female jail inmate was sexually assaulted by an employee inside the Harris County Jail in early March. Investigators have interviewed the victim, reviewed video recordings from inside the jail, and are taking all other necessary steps to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted. The investigation is ongoing, and no charges have been filed at this time. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office takes these allegations seriously, and we are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all inmates entrusted in our care.”
The sheriff also tweeted about the incident.
Every inmate in our jail deserves to feel safe. I give my word that we will devote every necessary resource to investigate an allegation that a female inmate was sexually assaulted by an employee. We will take swift, strong action if the evidence supports it. #lesm #hounews
— Ed Gonzalez (@SheriffEd_HCSO) May 4, 2018
Nevertheless, Jason Spencer of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that no charges have been filed and that there is not enough evidence to identify a suspect.
“Investigators have interviewed the victim, reviewed video recordings from inside the jail, and are taking all other necessary steps to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted,” he wrote in an email. “No charges have been filed at this time. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office takes these allegations seriously, and we are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all inmates entrusted to our care.”
Lopez’ attorney, Michael Edwards, said:
“There’s surveillance, there’s jail calls, there’s a number of elements that support Mrs. Lopez in her outcry in what happened to her.”
“I feel like when I look at my body, it’s not mine,” Lopez-Pound told the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t even like looking at me. … I feel like I’m losing my mind.” She is undergoing psychiatric treatment for the trauma, as well as taking medication to prevent the potential contraction of HIV.
A 2014 federal study found “the rate of sexual assault in the lockup at 1200 Baker St. was 7.6 percent, more than twice the national average, and the third-worst of 373 jails studied,” the Chronicle summarized, adding that a more recent investigation concluded the jail had improved its practices.
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