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REGIONAL >Local >State >National >World >Education >Updated
Story last updated at 12:40 a.m. Monday, February 19, 2007
Officials at Texas juvenile prison accused of molesting inmates
DALLAS (AP) - An internal investigation by the Texas Youth Commission accused high-ranking officials at an isolated state juvenile prison of molesting young male inmates, according to a copy of the report released to The Dallas Morning News.
The West Texas State School, located between Midland and Pecos in rural Pyote, houses 250 male inmates. Reports say many prison staffers there complained about the abuse to their immediate bosses and to officials in Austin, but for more than a year, no one in charge did anything to stop it. No one has been prosecuted in the case.
Some say similar problems afflict many prisons run by the Texas Youth Commission.
"The TYC has established a dynasty of corruption that condones the mistreatment of youth in its care," Randal Chance, a retired inspector general for the agency, said in a story in Sunday's edition of The News. "Staff are being paid your tax money to rape your children."
Agency officials were stunned when they learned the Texas Rangers had substantiated charges of abuse at the Pyote facility in 2005, according to TYC Executive Director Dwight Harris.
"Quite frankly, it was a shock and a surprise to us that this could ever happen," Harris said.
However, an internal investigation, "Summary Report for Administrative Review," released last week to the newspaper, said that a West Texas caseworker raised the issue in a letter to Harris five months before the Rangers' investigation.
"There are definitely places where we had opportunities we missed," said Tim Savoy, TYC spokesman. "We regret doing that."
The report released to the newspaper said the abuse stemmed from a culture in which prison officials could abuse their power, punish children who tried to complain about them and reward those who gave them sexual favors.
The investigation alleged the former principal of the school lured inmates into sexual acts with offers or birthday cake and promises of help getting into college. The former assistant superintendent was accused of sexual contact with several youths.
The investigation found that the men kept the inmates silent by threatening to lengthen their sentences.
A year of quiet complaints within the TYC led to a Texas Ranger launching an investigation in February 2005, but the situation didn't receive much notice until recently when news organizations and state legislators began asking questions.
Ray Brookins, former assistant superintendent at Pyote, and John Paul Hernandez, former principal, both resigned their jobs in 2005 in lieu of termination.
Brookins, 41, who lives in Austin, declined to comment. Hernandez, also 41, asked if he committed the acts described in the reports, said, "Oh, absolutely not." He declined further comment on the advice of his lawyer.
Hernandez was the principal of the Richard Milburn Academy, a charter school in Midland until last week. On Thursday, he was placed on paid leave pending an investigation.
The top official at the Pyote facility for much of the time under investigation was Lemuel "Chip" Harrison, the superintendent. TYC's inspector general said Harrison received repeated reports of wrongdoing, but those reports were "not properly reported and not addressed with documented supervisory intervention by Mr. Harrison."
He was put on probation for 90 days as a result, but was subsequently promoted to director of juvenile corrections for TYC.
He told the newspaper that he had not seen the TYC report, but, "I don't know of anybody who ever covered up anything."
The cases involving Brookins and Hernandez were referred to federal authorities, who did not prosecute. However, Ward County District Attorney Randall Reynolds said recently that the state cases involving Brookins and Hernandez are pending. He wouldn't say if he would present them to a grand jury.
TYC houses the offenders, ages 10 to 21, who are considered the most dangerous, incorrigible or chronic.
Since 2000, more than 90 employees at TYC facilities - some of them contractors - have been disciplined or fired for sexual misconduct with inmates.
Chance, the retired inspector general, has written a book on TYC, called "Raped by the State". He said cover-ups are common in the agency.
"It's widespread," he said, "and management knows about it."
But Harris defended the agency.
"TYC is a haven for committed, dedicated employees who work 12-hour shifts and put their lives on the line," he said.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has introduced a bill that would provide greater oversight of TYC. His bill would let the Texas Rangers make unannounced visits to each TYC prison at least once a month.
The bill would also reinforce the TYC's investigative force.
"They have some real serious problems," he said.