The sex abuse allegations involving TYC staff just don't seem to end.
In the latest incident, a juvenile corrections officer is accused of having sex with an 18-year-old female inmate at a Benbrook city park last week. They were on a field trip from the Willoughby Halfway House in Fort Worth.
The House bill to reform the Texas Youth Commission is beginning to show a couple of significant differences with the Senate bill that passed out of that chamber last week.
One recently-attached amendment in the House bill calls for reinstating a governing board and having an executive director report to that board. The Senate bill, as has been widely reported, calls for investing power in a single individual, an executive commissioner, and having that person assisted by an advisory council.
Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, who sits on the Corrections Committee and voted for the amendment, explained: "I think the (old) structure was a good structure. I think it broke down because you had an inept and disinterested board and the governor's office failed to exercise proper oversight."
TYC's old board resigned under pressure last month for failing to move aggressively to protect juveniles sentenced to TYC from sexual and physical abuse.
The agency has since been taken over by a conservator in wake of rampant allegations that youths were abused in facilities around the state.
The House Committee is expected to vote out its bill, with some 25 or so amendments, later this week, with the House voting on it next week.
The bill also makes an exception to closing TYC to juveniles arrested for misdemeanors.
A juvenile picked up for violating felony probation, even though the probation violation would be a misdemeanor, could still be sentenced to TYC.
Rep. Jerry Madden, the Republican chair of House Corrections, predicted the debate over closing TYC to misdemeanor offenders would be lively.
"It's an honest question. What size do we want TYC to be? Do we want to have youth 13-year-old kids with misdemeanor convictions with 20-year-old felons?"
No doubt where Madden stands on the issue.
(photos: from left, Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco and Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson)April 23, 2007
Several judges and prosecutors have appeared before lawmakers in recent weeks to oppose provisions of the TYC legislation. In particular, they've been dead set against proposals closing TYC to juveniles picked up for misdemeanor offenses.
This morning, the House Corrections Committee adopted an amendment that might appease them.
The amendment would allow kids who commit a misdemeanor by violating their probation to be sentenced to TYC if they were initially sentenced to probation for a felony.
The committee is now debating other provisions of the omnibus bill and should pass something out today.
The misplaced surveillance tapes that reportedly recorded the movements of a former TYC guard accused of sexual abuse did not make it before a grand jury because they were left behind in the office of an official who resigned last month in the current shakeup.
"The tapes were in a supervisor's office for a period of time. By the time they were located, it was too late. The grand jury had already met," said John Moriarty, inspector general of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "It was nothing sinister."
State leaders were furious yesterday upon learning that at least three surveillance tapes of the former guard accused of sexually abusing three incarcerated girls were not presented to the grand jury in Brownwood. The grand jury no billed the former guard on April 5. Nine days later, it took one of Moriarity's investigators just minutes to locate the tapes by simply asking for them at TYC headquarters.
Moriarty said he believed the tapes were simply overlooked when the TYC official resigned.
Brown County District Attorney Michael Murray said he had not yet received the tapes. And it would be days or weeks before he'd make any decision on whether to present new evidence to another grand jury.
Agency investigators found evidence that the former guard at the Ron Jackson facility in Brownwood sexually abused at least three teenage girls in 2003 and 2004. The guard was allowed to resign and the agency's case against him wasn't forwarded to the local district attorney until after newspapers began writing about it.
The tapes apparently show the guard entering and exiting a supply closet with one of the alleged victims. An internal report indicates that his movements on the tape corroborate details given by his accusers.
Joseph Galloway filed a class action lawsuit against the Texas Youth Commission today in federal court seeking to force reforms in the system.
Galloway claims that neglect by TYC staff allowed other youths to beat him and rape him while in the system. Galloway said he was sentenced to nine months in the system but end up having his sentence extended to four years.
His mother, Genger, said Joseph had his sentence extended for things like letting his socks sag or wearing pants that were too big, even though they had been issued by TYC.
The 19-year-old said he now wants to pursue a career in the Merchant Marine.
The lawsuit was filed on his behalf by the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Attorney Jim Harrington said the Legislature may be trying to enact reforms on its own, but he said there may be a need for federal courts to enforce the reforms.
A spokesman for the Texas Youth Commission has a message for those nervous about this week's much-publicized release of 550 juveniles from its lockups: Calm down.
"Please rest assure that we are not 'opening the doors' of the facilities, spokesman Jim Hurley wrote in a media release this afternoon.
Attached was a spreadsheet which he said indicated that the release of 550 kids beginning today "is not an anomoly."
The spreadsheet compares this year's releases to previous years. Some 2,960 juvenile offenders were released from TYC custody in fiscal year 2005; 3071 in fiscal year 2006 and 1,530 since Sept. 1 2006.
It also shows that more than 71,000 adult felons were released last year from the state's adult prison system, a fact that may not calm jitters at all!
In any event, TYC's conservator Jay Kimbrough insists the 550 youths he ordered released have served their sentences and were simply stuck in a system that couldn't or wouldn't process them out on time. All will be released by the end of the weekend. Here are the numbers of some of those returning home:
To Harris County, 143
Bexar County, 44
Dallas County 37
Tarrant County 29
Travis County 23
Ward County Attorney Kevin Acker is seeking to have his local district attorney removed from office for failing to prosecute sex abuse charges against two administrators of a West Texas juvenile lockup.
Acker said he was interviewing witnesses locally and in Austin, and planned to have a petition filed with the local district clerk's office within two weeks. Among the people he's interviewing are legislators who sit on the joint committee overseeing TYC.
The county attorney described Randall W. Reynolds, who has a private practice on the side, as a "good lawyer" who in recent years appeared beset by personal problems, including his wife's poor health.
"He was not being as proactive," Acker said, adding: "We have to pay for big mistakes."
District attorneys can be removed from office for incompetence, official misconduct and intoxication on or off duty.
Reynolds has been widely criticized for refusing to prosecute the case of two administrators of the West Texas State School, despite a Texas Rangers' investigation linking them to the sexual abuse of as many as 10 youths in their care.
Acker, who handles misdemeanors, said he was in touch with Reynold's attorney, Hal Upchurch, and said he was led to believe that Reynolds might resign. Neither Upchurch nor Reynolds returned calls for comment.
Deborah Geisler, whose 10-year-old son murdered his father in 2004, told a select legislative committee today that older boys in the Texas Youth Commission are protecting her son from being raped by other inmates.
The boy, who is now 13, was convicted last year of shooting Rick Lohstroh -- Geisler's ex-husband. Geisler said the case is on appeal.
But she said part of the TYC rehabilitation program is a requirement that he admit to the crime.
"I was absolutely horrified that he was being coerced while his trial is under appeal to state specifically what his lawyer has told him not to state," Geisler said.
Geisler said her son is in the Giddings State School in a dormitory with other youth who range from 12 to 20 years old. While many TYC parents have complained that the older youth take advantage of the younger inmates, she said in her son's case it is a good thing.
"There are two individuals in his dorm who are protecting him from being raped," Geisler said.
Special master Jay Kimbrough who has been coordinating reform efforts at the Texas Youth Commission, got a new job title today; conservator.
As such he will have additional authority to clean house at the embattled agency and he promised to do just that, beginning with the likely firings of the 111 convicted felons who have been identified as working at the TYC. He said he also would seek resignations from a lot of other people at the agency.
Kimbrough's new title was announced by Gov. Rick Perry, who had initially resisted appointing a conservator, and by legislative leaders. Perry said Kimbrough would remain conservator through the end of the legislative session, after which he expects to appoint another conservator.
The governor and legislative leaders also announced they will back legislation to change the permanent governing structure of the Texas Youth Commission.
After the conservatorship is completed, the new law will put the commission under the day to day administration of a single commissioner appointed by the governor, rather than a multi member governing board.
Clay Robison, Texas Capitol
How much money will be needed longterm to help fix the troubled Texas Youth Commission is unclear, but House leaders want to put millions more into the agency as soon as possible for items including security cameras, said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, Appropriations Committee chairman.
Chisum said when the House considers a supplemental funding bill Thursday, there will be a move to shuffle funds to add some $6 million to TYC -- $5 million of that for cameras.
Jay Kimbrough, named by Perry to investigate TYC problems, has said an overhaul might include cameras in all rooms in youth lockups.
Chisum said the goal is to add $9 million in short-term funding, with the rest to be added after the Senate passes its supplemental funding bill and differences are worked out in conference committee.
The supplemental funding bill, House Bill 15, addresses revenue needs that need to be addressed in this fiscal cycle and will total about $453 million.
That's in addition to the $150.1 billion in spending for all state government services allocated in House Bill 1, that also will be debated Thursday.
All that spending is on top of the $14.2 billion allocated to subsidize local property tax relief in House Bill 2, which already has cleared the House.
Jay Kimbrough, the special master charged with investigating the sex abuse scandal plaguing the Texas Youth Commission, said this morning that if he were a county judge, he wouldn't send a single juvenile into the Texas Youth Commission because he doesn't have the assurance they'd be safe.
"I would not send 'em because I can't swear to you this is where we want to be," he told members of the House Corrections Committee this morning.
Kimbrough said he's troubled by poor staff-to-offender ratios, a lack of survelliance equipment on the units and the lack of an independent inspector general's office.
Could the Attorney General's sex abuse case against the two former adminstrators of a West Texas juvenile detention center be crumbling?
On Wednesday, a grand jury in Monahans heard evidence regarding allegations that Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez sexually abused incarcerated youth at the West Texas State School between 2003 and 2005. The jurors went home without issuing indictments or filing a single court order with the local district clerk's office. (The accused weren't no billed either).
The Attorney General's office was mum on the matter, and outside AG sources still close to the case said they were in the dark. No one wanted to speculate whether the alleged victims, kids who may want to put their TYC experience behind them, were refusing to testify.
In any event, maybe Don Clemmer, deputy attorney general for the criminal justice division, knew something when he told lawmakers earlier this month that his office would wait until the beginning of May to present evidence to a grand jury. Lawmakers were furious, demanding that Clemmer explain why action couldn't be taken sooner. That was March 8. On March 9, an attorney with the AG's office revealed that a grand jury would hear evidence the week of March 19, weeks earlier.
Maybe the AG's office needed more time to present their case. If it had been me sitting in Clemmer's seat that day, I'd have preferred eating needles to telling lawmakers that. Not with the present fury and finger-pointing surrounding the TYC sex scandal.
The case is by no means dead. The same grand jury will reconvene on April 10.
(Photo: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott at a recent meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee)
The question of whether indictments will be returned against two former juvenile detention center administrators who are accused of sexually abusing boys in their care may not be answered today after all.
Texas Rangers Capt. Barry Caver said he has been told the grand jury is being asked to issue subpoenas and court orders, not indictments.
"They're introducing them to the case today to let them know what is going on," Caver said.
Caver said he was not certain when the grand jury would be asked to issue indictments.
The grand jury did not hear today from the ranger who pursued the case for two years, Brian Burzynski.
Caver he is not certain when the grand jury will be called to meet again.
Assistant Texas Attorney General Lisa Tanner left the courtroom at 12:51 p.m. but gave no comment.
Members of the Monahans grand jury have not exited yet.
The scandal centers on former administrators at the West Texas State School. It has become a statewide scandal of physical and sexual abuse in the Texas Youth Commission system.
Just before 10:30 a.m., 12 jurors took their seats in the second floor of a West Texas courtroom to hear evidence against two one-time administrators of a juvenile detention center in nearby Pyote.
The question before them is simple: Is it more likely than not that Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez, former top administrators at the West Texas State School, sexually abused boys they were charge with protecting.
None of the members of the media witnessed either of the accused enter the building this morning.
Ranger Brian Burzynski is expected to be the star witness at today's hearing, but no one saw him enter the building either.
The much-criticized district attorney, Randy Reynolds, entered the courthouse shortly after 10 a.m., but had nothing to say to the media.
Gov. Rick Perry's staff knew early on that a pair of sex abuse cases at the Texas Youth Commission's West Texas State School were not being prosecuted.
But the governor's office also missed an opportunity to see the broader TYC scandal coming.
In April 2004, former TYC Inspector General Randal Chance wrote a book called Raped by the State, outlining abuse allegations in TYC -- especially at the West Texas State School.
Chance sent an email to Perry's office complaining that TYC employees were threatening him over his self-published book.
Chance's e-mail was forwarded to TYC by Perry criminal justice advisor Janna Burleson and copied to press secretary Kathy Walt and the general counsel's office.
An e-mail from TYC Chief of Staff Joy Anderson to the governor's office said the book was an "angry, rambling, racist, sexist attack against the agency'' and "offered little detail that would enable us to investigate further.'' Burleson wrote back: "No need to respond to him (Chance).''
Even if the book was the ramblings of a disgruntled former employee, the email exchange shows neither TYC executives nor the governor's office tried to investigate whether there was any subtance to what Chance was saying.
Chance said when he did not hear back from the governor, "I assumed they did not take it seriously.''
Chance had said he should be treated as a whistleblower, but both the governor's office and TYC decided he did not have whistleblower protections because he was a former employee when he wrote the book.
Two senior Texas Youth Commission executives resigned today at the request of acting Executive Director Ed Owens.
Deputy Executive Director Linda Reyes and General Counsel Neil Nichols resigned their positions, said agency spokesman Jim Hurley. Reyes had been at TYC for 18 years, and Nichols had been there for 33 years.
Reyes has been in charge of the resocialization program for youth in the agency's custody.
Nichols was the agency lawyer who helped negotiate a settlement in 1988 to the Morales v. Turman federal lawsuit. The TYC had been under a federal court order for fourteen years amid allegations of abuse and neglect of students in the system's custody.
Nichols also has been instrumental in drafting juvenile justice legislation since 1995.
But both were senior executives at the commission during the past three years when high staff turnovers began occurring and there were renewed allegations of staff on youth physical and sexual assault. Legislators have accused the agency's executive staff of ignoring problems as they developed.
"These people were part of the executive leadership of this agency when all the stories that were reported were taking place," Hurley said. "We need a new direction at this agency. We need a new culture. We need a new attitude."
Hurley said other members of the executive staff also may be asked to resign.
Former Executive Director Dwight Harris resigned in February as the scandal began unfolding.
The TYC governing board tendered its resignation on Friday after vesting all of its powers with Owens.
Mark Brown, a lawyer with the Texas Legislative Council, told state lawmakers today that despite their resignation letters, the Texas Youth Commission governing board can't quit.
Brown said the resignation letters the board gave Gov. Rick Perry last Friday may signal their intent to leave the board, but he said they actually serve until Perry names their successors and those people are "qualified" to serve.
During a legislative session, "qualified" means confirmed by the Senate.
Brown said the board's status as quit or serving may not matter because they passed a resolution giving all of their authority to acting Executive Director Ed Owens.
"They passed the gavel," Brown said.
A group of House Democrats chartered a bus to tour the Texas Youth Commission intake facility in Marlin this morning.
One case of sex abuse involving a staff member on a student at Marlin was confirmed by the agency. The student was impregnated.
The 20 fact-finding tour members were led by Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio. Martinez-Fischer dubbed them the "San Antonio Express," presumably after his hometown newspaper.
Caucus members will be meeting with TYC employees and facility management and will talk with a group of reporters also on the bus.
All TYC student-offenders pass through the Marlin intake center before being assigned to other facilities. The Marlin facility is located on 60 acres southeast of Waco and has a maximum capacity of 436 students.
Other tour members include Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston and Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin.
The Marlin center has been reported as the most abusive juvenile intake facility in the nation.
The TYC board has quit, as expected. Here's what's in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News:
AUSTIN -- The Texas Youth Commission governing board tendered their resignations today under pressure from a Legislature that said the board was negligent in overseeing an agency plagued by stories of physical and sexual abuse of youths in its custody.
The board's last act was to transfer their power to Acting Executive Director Ed Owens. The actual resignations become official at 5 p.m.
"Good luck to you, Ed," board Chairman Don Bethel said.
Before the six members announced they were stepping down, they approved a rehabilitation plan for the agency that had been developed by Owens. The plan is meant to address concerns over adequate staffing at juvenile facilities and what the agency can do to protect both staff and youth from violence.
Gov. Rick Perry had been defending the board and its actions until Wednesday, when the Senate passed a bill to abolish the current board, and the House overwhelmingly cast a procedural vote to show support for the Senate legislation. At that point, Perry agreed to have his appointees to the TYC board resign today after approving the rehabilitation plan.
Perry also wants the Legislature to establish a single commissioner to oversee TYC instead of the civilian governing board. That commissioner would answer to the governor.
But legislative leaders have said they oppose the single commissioner. They would prefer a civilian oversight board with all new members to bring a fresh approach to an agency in crisis.
In the past several years, the agency has been rocked by student riots and a staff turnover rate of nearly half its employees every year. Because of student-on-staff violence, TYC has the highest workers' compensation payouts of any state agency.
There also have been allegations that the agency executives have concealed problems. That includes two West Texas State School administrators who in 2005 were allowed to resign rather than being fired after they were discovered to have been having sex with boys in their custody for two years.
Once the men were gone, neither the agency nor the board followed up to see if they were prosecuted. Neither man has been charged.
The Chronicle and the Express-News are continuing to keep tabs on this rapidly developing story. Any thoughts on today's much-anticipated development?
The Democrats at the Lone Star Project say U.S. Attorney General Al Gonzales and U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in San Antonio blew their chance to bring justice to the Texas Youth Commission sexual abuse case.
Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski took the case of sex abuse at the West Texas State School to federal authorities in 2005 when he got frustrated that a local district attorney would not prosecute.
Sutton's office on July 28, 2005, sent Burzynski a letter saying they would decline to prosecute two TYC administrators for having sex with boys in their custody.
When the TYC system build-up was occurring during the administration of then-Gov. George W. Bush, Gonzales was the governor's general counsel and Sutton was his policy director on criminal justice issues.
Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project said the federal authorities, along with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, "were aware of the sordid sexual and physical abuse of juveniles taking place at Texas Youth Commission facilities more than a year before the story broke in the press."
Angle said neither the U.S. Justice Department nor Abbott "took any action, official or unofficial, to stop the abuse, punish the abusers or even publicize the abuse taking place."
Gov. Rick Perry now wants to replace the six people he appointed to the embattled Texas Youth Commission board with a czar.
"Leading the Texas Youth Commission is a full-time job that demands the attention of a full-time, criminal justice professional," Perry said in a statement just hours after the Senate voted unanimously to have the board ousted. "A single commissioner would provide better oversight of the agency on a day-to-day basis and would be more accountable to the executive and legislative branches."
The statement indicates the board will resign on Friday, right after approving a rehabilitation plan for the scandal-ridden agency.
Until now, Perry has refused to call on his appointees to quit. Lawmakers have expressed a complete loss of confidence in the six sitting board members, saying they failed to provide proper oversight as allegations of juveniles being sexually and physically abused at units around the state have poured in.
The governor has no one in mind to assume the reins of the agency, said Ted Royer, a spokesman for Perry.
The governor's proposal would still have to be approved by the Legislature.
Royer said lawmakers have expressed interest in the plan, but Royer wasn't placing bets it would succeed. "I stopped trying to predict final outcomes a long time ago," he said.
The Texas Senate has just opened debate on legislation to fire the board of directors for the Texas Youth Commission, despite Gov. Rick Perry's interest in handling an investigation of a sex scandal by leaving his appointees in place.
"We want action now," Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, told senators in the opening minutes of the debate.
The Senate is acting with lightening speed -- moving the bill to the floor less than 24 hours after a Senate committee voted unanimously to fire the six remaining members on the seven-member board.
Extraordinary action is required because of "what is happening to those children," Harris said.
The chief investigator for the Texas Youth Commission was suspended with pay today for allegedly tampering with evidence.
Ray Worsham, director of youth care investigations, was told not to report to work today. He is alleged to have altered documents regarding the reported sexual abuse of juveniles at the West Texas State School in Pyote, said TYC spokesman Jim Hurley. "It's a very serious accusation," Hurley said.
At least two documents are believed to have been altered regarding the investigation into sexual abuse of juveniles at the West Texas juvenile lockup.
Two administrators are alleged to have committed sexual abuse at the facility, luring boys from their beds and classrooms for more a year.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott knew about sex abuse allegations at the Texas Youth Commission but failed to act, says the Lone Star Project, a Democratic group out of Washington.
The U.S. Justice Department begged off pursuing a civil rights case in one TYC matter, the group says, by noting that youths interviewed did not report "bodily injury." You can read the July 2005 letter from the U.S. Attorney Western District of Texas in San Antonio here.
The group also zings Abbott, saying he gave priority to a "partisan" voter fraud investigation near Ward County instead of pursuing allegations of sexual abuse at the Ward County TYC facility.
Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland issued a lengthy statement followed by a lengthy interview regarding why Abbott -- who has made protecting children from sex predators a high-profile issue at his agency -- didn't get involved in the TYC prosecution efforts sooner.
Short answer: He lacked jurisdiction because he did not receive an "invitation" to help prosecute by the local West Texas district attorney.
Long answer: He didn't offer to help because he did not know about the allegations, according to Strickland. Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski didn't alert Abbott to the allegations; he alerted an attorney in the agency named William Tatum, says Strickland.
The Ranger's e-mail complained of a "weak" local prosecutor who hadn't done anything with the allegations and might let the statute of limitations run out.
"Is this something that the AG's office could review and perhaps consider a prosecution on, or perhaps, assist the local prosecution with?" Buryznski asked Tatum in the Feb. 21, 2006 e-mail.
The problem is, Strickland said, nobody bothered to ask Abbott that question
directly, not even Tatum.
"Attorney General Abbott was never aware of the e-mail that came into our office," he said Friday. "We were never given any indication that the case was not being dealt with. The information was never disseminated up the chain of command."
(Photo at right: Attorney Generag Greg Abbott)
The question from Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. to Ed Owens, the acting executive director of the scandal ridden Texas Youth Commission, was simple: Can you say to every juvenile judge in the state of Texas that if he or she sends a youth to a TYC facility, that child will be safe?
Owens paused a moment and said. "Yes. I think that with oversight, I'd say yes."
Owen is testifying before the Joint Committee on the Operation and Management of Texas Youth Commission, the legislative body charged with getting to the bottom of the sexual abuse of juveniles in TYC facilities.
Texas Ranger Bryan Burzynski, who led the investigation of the West Texas State School probe, is now discussing the West Texas probe.