Scandal rocks Texas juvenile system
PYOTE, Texas --For at least two years, investigators say, boys at a juvenile prison in the West Texas desert were summoned from their dorms late at night and taken to darkened conference rooms, offices and ball fields for sex with two of the institution's top administrators.
The boys told their parents, their teachers, any staff member who would listen. A few diligent staff members took their complaints to their supervisors. But the allegations were largely covered up until last month, when they exploded in the biggest scandal ever to engulf the Texas juvenile prison system.
The No. 1 and No. 2 officials at the Texas Youth Commission have lost their jobs over their handling of the allegations. Prosecutors are looking into criminal charges. And lawmakers are infuriated.
"What scares me the most is what I don't know," said state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee.
The allegations became public when the Dallas Morning News cited a never-released 2005 Texas Rangers report that said 13 boys were molested at the West Texas State school, a red-brick institution ringed by razor wire in a desolate part of the state. Since then, others have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse at other juvenile prisons across Texas.
Lawmakers were outraged to learn that the two men accused of molesting boys at the West Texas State School -- Ray Brookins, an assistant superintendent who temporarily ran the place, and Principal John Paul Hernandez -- were quietly allowed to resign in 2005 with no criminal charges. (Hernandez took a job as the director of a nearby charter school, which accepted his resignation last week.)
Attempts to reach Hernandez and Brookins by telephone and at their homes were unsuccessful. Hernandez previously denied wrongdoing.
The Texas Youth Commission oversees 7,500 youths -- including some of the most dangerous offenders, ages 10 to 21 -- and operates 15 prisons, nine halfway houses and numerous treatment and counseling centers.
Among the parents to come forward with horror stories since the scandal broke is Genger Galloway, who told lawmakers this week that her 19-year-old son finally told her Saturday about abuse he suffered when he was held a juvenile prison in central Texas at age 15.
"They've tried to figure out why he's so angry and why he's so hurt and why he won't talk," Galloway said. "And it's because he doesn't feel safe in there."
Galloway said that her son, who has been jailed for molesting his siblings, was sexually assaulted by a female staff member and beaten and sodomized by a male inmate in 2003.
Mary Jane Martinez of San Antonio told lawmakers last week that her son also was sexually assaulted at a juvenile jail. "My son is home, but he is not the same since he was raped in the TYC," she said. She said her 17-year-old son "is so ashamed of himself he built a wall."
Randal Chance, a retired inspector general with the Texas Youth Commission and author of the book "Raped by the State," said the routine mistreatment of children by the TYC has long been ignored. "This one here, it finally snuck out," he said.
Investigators said that at Pyote, Brookins and other administrators used intimidation to suppress complaints about sexual abuse.
On Tuesday, Jay Kimbrough, an outsider appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to look into the widening scandal, said investigators are being sent to 22 Texas Youth Commission institutions and the agency headquarters to investigate claims of abuse of inmates.
In a warning to any agency employees who may have molested inmates, he said: "If you are part of this gig, you need to move on or we're going to find you and prosecute you."
Since the scandal broke in February, Executive Director Dwight Harris has resigned, TYC board chairman Pete C. Alfaro has been fired, and Lemuel "Chip" Harrison, who led the West Texas State School when the abuses allegedly occurred before he was promoted to one of four directors of juvenile corrections, has been suspended.
TYC spokesman Tim Savoy acknowledged mistakes at the Pyote prison. "When you take a number of years and condense it down to a concise report, you can easily see how it all fits together," Savoy said.
He said Brookins never should have been promoted and probably should have been fired in 2001, when he was disciplined for looking at adult pornography on a state computer.
At the Pyote prison, acting Superintendent Curtis Simmons said at a staff meeting last week that what happened two years ago "was a shame, but it is no reflection on what we do" now.
"This is a kid facility," Simmons said. "We treat kids with compassion."