Alex Friedmann says fear of another 'gang rape' motivated him to hide weapons in jail walls

A local criminal justice advocate, guilty of vandalizing the Downtown Detention Center while it was under construction and planting weapons in the walls, is asking for leniency in sentencing, claiming he committed the act out of fear.

In a seven page letter, filed by his attorney, Alex Friedmann apologized for his actions, accepted responsibility as the sole conspirator and offered an explanation for the crime.

"Some who have followed my career thought that I may have been set up or duped into participating in a plot involving the jail. That was not the case," he wrote. "Law enforcement officials have concluded that I was planning a mass escape, or armed riot at the DDC. That is also wrong, though their assumption is easily understandable."

Instead, Friedmann said, his actions were motivated by an irrational fear — fear that he might be incarcerated again and "gang raped," like he said he experienced when he was 18 and jailed on a robbery charge.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall isn't buying it.

"For him to portray himself as a victim is insulting," the sheriff said by phone Friday. "I don't believe him."

What was Alex Friedmann's criminal charge? What happened at his trial?

Friedmann was arrested in early 2020 after he was caught on video surveillance impersonating a construction contractor, stealing two keys and hiding three firearms and numerous blades in the facility.

He was initially charged with felony vandalism in connection with the case.

At the time of his arrest, Friedmann was the managing editor of Prison Legal News. He was frequently quoted in news stories about prison reform. And he served as the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit which advocates for prisoner rights.

During Friedmann's trial, his attorneys told the jury their client was guilty, but accused the state of overcharging him. Prosecutors with the Davidson County District Attorney's Office said his crimes cost the county more than $250,000 to rekey the facility and pay overtime for employees to review thousands of hours of video footage.

A jury found Friedmann guilty of felony vandalism. He faces between 25 and 40 years in a Tennessee prison. In August, Friedmann pleaded guilty to a federal charge of gun possession in connection with the same case.

Friedmann is to appear in court Oct. 6 to discover his fate.

How were hidden weapons discovered? 'We did all the hard work'

Ben Raybin, Friedmann's attorney, filed a sentencing memorandum ahead of the October hearing. In the filing, he details several mitigating factors — Friedmann's decades as an upstanding citizen, his advocacy work and unresolved trauma− reasons why be believes his client should be afforded a punishment on the lower end of the range.

Accompanying the filings were over a dozen letters of support from friends, academics, lawyers, clergy and his wife, Alice.

Raybin also wrote that Friedmann was forthcoming and provided an accounting of what contraband was inside the facility, helping authorities complete their search. During trial, his defense team noted, it became apparent some items had not been located. Friedmann offered to disclose the location of the items.

Again, Hall, frustrated by the recent filings, said that simply is not true.

"We did all the hard work," Hall said. "He returned the keys because we caught him with them. We found those weapons because we reviewed that video footage. He's only going to tell you what we already know and take credit for it."

Since the trial, Hall said no further contraband has been discovered in the walls of the facility.

Sheriff: 'His credibility is less than zero'

Friedmann wrote that he told very few people of the rapes.

"I did not want to reveal it even now, but my attorneys insisted it was necessary to provide context to what happened much later with respect to my actions at the DDC," the letter reads.

Friedmann wrote that in 2018 he visited the old jail where he was held to take photos for documentation purposes before it was demolished, but also to visit the cell where the rapes occurred.

"I had hoped the visit would provide closure for the most traumatic experience of my life. I was wrong, as it had the opposite effect," the letter reads. "I began having intense flashbacks of when I was raped, reliving it over and over."

Hall called Friedmann's story a "fascinating illusion," adding "his credibility is less than zero." If he was only hiding the contraband to protect himself, Hall asked rhetorically, why did he have 21 additional weapons — including a grenade launcher and assault rifles — locked away?

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Alex Friedmann says fear of rape motivated him to hide weapons in jail