TYC Trouble

Mounting frustration in Lege over Perry's lack of action toward allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups within TYC facilities

Over the last month, an accelerating war of words has erupted between Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature over the management of the Texas Youth Commission, the agency responsible for the state's youth correction programs. Both the House and Senate have voiced frustration that Perry continues to act too slowly to tackle mounting allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups within TYC facilities.

At a Feb. 1 Senate Finance Committee meeting, Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, questioned TYC Executive Director Dwight Harris about a 2005 DPS report. It alleged sexual abuse of inmates by Assistant Superintendent Ray Brookins and Principal John Paul Hernandez of the West Texas State School in Pyote. Three weeks later, on Feb. 22, Harris faced three hours of questions from the House Appropriations Committee about Pyote and similar allegations about the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg. Representatives were worried as much about the allegations as whether management within TYC ignored and possibly even suppressed charges against staff. Why had Hernandez and Brookins been allowed to resign rather than being fired? Why had Pyote's then-superintendent, Lemuel "Chip" Harrison, been promoted to director of juvenile corrections in 2006? Why had TYC ignored staff complaints going back to 2004?

Harris resigned the following day. His replacement, commission general counsel Neil Nichols, made the situation worse when, in front of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 27, he called Harris a valued employee. Under pressure, Perry replaced TYC Chair Pete Alfaro on Feb. 28 with Vice Chair Donald R. Bethel and suggested the board replace Nichols with Texas Department of Criminal Justice Deputy Executive Director Ed Owens. In a unanimous vote that night, the Senate asked Perry to place TYC in conservatorship, under the Senate's legal control. He didn't. On March 2, the Legislative Audit Committee recommended Perry take the Senate's advice. Instead, he appointed his former deputy chief of staff, Jay Kimbrough, as special master to lead an investigation. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick responded by announcing their own joint select committee. Meanwhile, Sen. Hinojosa and Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, have both filed bills that would completely change how TYC operates. Perry fast-tracked the legislation on Monday by making it an emergency item for the Legislature.

The scandal has moved beyond whether Perry did enough to control TYC. Allegations have emerged about abuse at other sites, including the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Brownwood. Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle subpoenaed TYC files after claims surfaced that the agency had censored its internal investigation of the West Texas State School. State auditors are investigating claims of gross financial mismanagement. Now, legislators are asking, if the DPS report on Pyote was filed in 2005, why hasn't the attorney general's office filed charges?

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

TYC, Rick Perry, Texas Youth Commission, Juan Hinojosa, Dwight Harris, Ray Brookins, John Paul Hernandez, West Texas State School, House Appropriations Committee, Evins Regional Juvenile Center, Lemuel "Chip" Harrison, Neil Nichols, Pete Alfaro, Donald R. Bethel, Ed Owens, Legislative Audit Committee, Jay Kimbrough, David Dewhurst, Tom Craddick, Jerry Madden

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