Friday, July 04, 2008

US Attorney should prosecute TYC abuse cases Hidalgo DA eschewed

The Texas Youth Commission sex abuse debacle last year left the battered agency languishing in conservatorship after the press revealed that the local DA failed to prosecute allegations that a West Texas State School supervisor sexually assaulted male prisoners under his charge. The Legislature reacted by creating new infrastructure to investigate abuses at TYC, but if local DAs and grand juries won't pursue charges, that doesn't help much. According to AP (June 28):
Grand juries in Hidalgo County have opted against indictments in several cases of alleged criminal abuse at Evins Regional Juvenile Center, two years after investigators uncovered systemic civil rights violations at the facility.

Of the eight cases of alleged staff-on-youth violence considered by grand jurors in the past year, none have resulted in criminal indictments, The (McAllen) Monitor reported in a story for its Sunday editions.

At the same time, the panels have green-lighted cases against nearly all the inmates accused of breaking the law, according to statistics provided by the Texas Youth Commission, the agency charged with overseeing Evins and the state's other youth prisons.

"We may have just reached a point where people think these teens aren't in prison because they sang too loud in the choir," TYC Inspector General Bruce Toney said. "But we have to remember they can be victims too." ...

Inmate riots and repeated allegations of abuse drew U.S. Department of Justice investigators to Evins in 2006.

Youths reported incidents in which guards bound them, threw them face-down into flower gardens, used their bodies as battering rams to open doors and hit them against concrete poles. The guards have said they did what was needed to protect themselves and other youths from harm.

But federal investigators saw it differently.

"Certain conditions at Evins violate the constitutional rights of the youth residents," their final report said. "In particular, we find that children confined (there) are not adequately protected from harm."

Since then, state legislators have overhauled the prison and its parent agency to address safety concerns. Lawmakers created the independent Office of the Inspector General to review youth reports and designated a special prosecution unit to try criminal cases stemming from them.

Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg in May suggested that grand jury members may be personally too close to facility employees, but my guess is the DA's office is the common thread. Typically if a prosecutor actually wants to get indictments, they don't go zero for eight!

Basically the law enforcement community in Hidalgo is taking care of its own, and as the original West Texas case shows that's how things work in many parts of the state. It's too politically dicey for local DAs to consistently prosecute police, deputies, prison guards, probation officers, or juvie authorities without facing backlash from interests who are core constituencies. Some DAs have the cojones to do the right thing in that environment, and clearly some do not.

In TYC's case, the Lege actually created a special prosecutor but the law forces her to defer to local DA's decisions about who will try the case. That's clearly creating problems and the law should be changed next year to let the special prosecutor present the cases personally to a grand jury.

I've long believed the state needed a special prosecutor's office to avoid even the appearance of conflict when making decisions about charging folks in law enforcement, but this example shows the idea won't work if it's a voluntary arrangement. In 2003, then state-representative and current Democratic US Senate candidate Rick Noriega filed HB 414 which would have required appointment of a special prosecutor when any peace officer was prosecuted. Noriega's bill would have had local judges appoint special prosecutors when peace officers in their jurisdiction were accused:
The attorney for the state or an attorney employed by the office of the attorney for the state may not represent the state in the prosecution of a felony or Class A misdemeanor charge filed against a peace officer serving an area also served by the attorney and the office of the attorney. After a disqualification required by this subsection, a court who appoints an attorney pro tem under Article 2.07 may not appoint a person who has prosecuted cases before the court in the five years preceding the appointment.
If it had passed, the bill might actually have created a demand for "prosecutors for hire"! But in retrospect given the volume of such cases, it might be better to create an independent special prosecutor, perhaps a division in the Attorney General's office. That possibility remains far off in the future, though, and it's certain expanding the idea beyond TYC would be bitterly opposed by institutional players at the Lege like police unions and DAs, as it was in 2003.

A more immediate solution would be for the TYC Inspector General to take Hidalgo County cases straight to the US Attorney and ask him to press charges. The Evins Unit is already the subject of an Agreed Order with the US Justice Department over allegations of longstanding civil rights abuses. If the Hidalgo DA won't aggressively pursue legitimate allegations of staff on youth abuse, the Inspector General should do everything possible to move the action directly into federal court.

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

No big surprise for Hidalgo County on this one. Public officials there have been quoted to say, "Corruption, hell we demand it in Hidalgo County". Elected persons there (state and local) thrive on it, owe their lifestyles to it, and set up their successors for it. The whole thing ends up being just a drain for tax dollars to be wasted.

Anonymous said...

The problems of corruption and nepotism in Hidalgo county are not new.

The Kids and Guards are related and members of the same gangs, the systmatic abuses are often enforced against rival gang members, yes staff and students are gang members at Evins. The only solution to the multitude of problems at Evins is closure.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't surprise me. That's what "regionalization" gets you. Get those kids so close to their committing county, and the community remembers their crimes, and they have no sympathy. That's what's going on in Hidalgo County.

dirty harry said...

Without going into detail, I'm not impressed with members of the Inspector Generals office. To quote the opinion of one member regarding blatant violations of Texas Penal Code and federal law: "It's just a matter of paperwork."

Anonymous said...

I do believe TYC needs a special prosecutor to handle these cases of guards against inmates/youth. This same scenario plays out at every facility and some cases are just horrendous.

If TYC truly wants to head in the right direction they need to ensure that that these staff who are not prosecuted are termed for cause and not eligible for re-hire.

Anonymous said...

This scenario has always been the case at Evins. This has been the first and only facility where TYC did actually keep the majority of the Valley kids in the valley.

What you got was corruption, drugs, gang affiliations, etc. This is what Regionalization has done for Evins. Now we want to do the same for every facility.

Of course some of you will jump on the bandwagon and say, it's better to have the youth closer to their families. Those that say this have never worked in a facility like Evins where you run into "Mom" or "Dad" at wal-mart and they remind you that their boy better be taken care of or else.

Only time will tell but if anything Evins has taught us that this rational does not work.

Anonymous said...

Amen, want to at least take care of 75% of the DOJ case/s against the state? Close Evins this year.

Anonymous said...

Some of you, in your attacks on Evins, are missing the obvious. The GJ has indicted all of the kids that have been brought before it. They have no-billed all the staff. The same thing has happened in Houston County (Crockett).

As a long-term TYC employee, I welcome the idea presented by Scott that the SPU be givin the authority to take cases themselves, but I do not think the law allows (I may be wrong on this) the OIG to take cases directly to the DOJ.

As to the comment about TYC coding as not eligible for rehire those found in investigations to have abuse youth, the recent move of the Youth Care Investigators (non-law enforcement investigators) under the aegis of the OIG may help in that regard. The Criminal Investigators and YCIs now work side-by-side in the same department and are actively collaborating on investigations. The YCIs operate under the Texas Family Code, which is civil law, not penal law, so the rules are different. But, abuse is abuse, whether it is so defined by penal law or civil law.

Anonymous said...

Wonder what Chuy has to say about all of this? Is he as outraged that youth are being raped and tortured at Evins as he was at Pyote? Plus the staff still get away with it. Thimgs that make you go hmmmm. What's up with that Valley?

Anonymous said...

Where'd you get that "raped and tortured" sh*t? You're as bad as Chuy!

Anonymous said...

"Regionalization" doesn't just refer to a facility's geographic location.

Without having been there personally, but based on the mountain of published information available, it seems to me that Evins bears very little resemblance to the kind of regional facility that reformers have been advocating for over 50 years.

The facility's size, for instance, its open-bay dorm arrangement, and apparently high staff turnover add up to a disproportionate need to focus on security and order. Throw in a youth population dominated by gang members and this arrangement seems to make even less sense.

"Regionalization" is also supposed to mean a more cooperative relationship with families and communities. It looks as if this was an official aim for Evins at different times in its short history. At the same time, lots of people here clearly think this precise feature poses one of the biggest problems for Evins.

This is not the first thread where I've seen statements that the entire Valley and the staff are essentially co-opted by gangs and corruption. Here are my questions.

Isn't it possible that the set-up at Evins makes these problems worse?
Can anyone here envision a regional facility in the Valley that would work better?
If not, what is the alternative, in your view?

BB

Anonymous said...

Scott,
Your suggestion that the feds should prosecute staff on inmate abuses is interesting, but remember, the US Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the Pyote cases before the AG took them over because the abuses apparently didn't constitute federal crimes.

Also, the AG's Office already has a unit similar to that you are proposing.

Anonymous said...

Awww, did that hurt your feelings BF?

Anonymous said...

Hell, Hinijosa is probably an OG calling the shots in Evins.

Anonymous said...

Bill, some areas do have poor talent pools to pull from. Evins has a notoriously bad reputation.

Regionalization is fine idea on paper but some areas just don't allow adequate or appropriate staffing.

Hamilton State School in Bryan Texas had a difficult time hiring good staff. There were more than a few confirmed investigations of female staff engaging in inappropriate relationships with the youth at the facility (funny how a woman enaging in a sexual relationship with a youth never brought about the same uproar.) It should be noted that Bryan/College Station had one of the lowest unemployment rates in Texas so it wasn't surprising when a 20 year old girl hired to supervise 10-20 (many 18,19, 20 year old) youth gets pregnant with a students child. Or a female staff meets a student on a furlough at a park and decides to have a make out session (amazingly they took photos which showed up at the facility.)

Regionalization will not be the solution. The solution is to do more preventative action at the probation level and have more family interaction on the parole level.

Anonymous said...

If thats the answer quit sending them back to the facilities on curew violations. This sounds good in theory but your not living in reality, some youth (up tp 2000) need a secure setting.

Anonymous said...

If thats the answer quit sending them back to the facilities on curew violations. This sounds good in theory but your not living in reality, some youth (up tp 2000) need a secure setting.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering whether some of the incidents that seem to rise to the level of criminality are being routinely investigated. I had assumed that they would be, but talking to collegues at my facility, there is talk of a coverup where a youth was seriously injured in what should have been a routine procedure.

Anonymous said...

Bill, that entire Valley area is full of hard core Texas Syndicate, Eme' (MM) and TCB members that it's virtually impossible to get a pull of kids with no links to these prison gangs. They are the real deal. Those TDCJ gang members have saturated the valley.

Regionalization is not necessarily a bad idea, except when you place a state school in the valley. San Antonio is just as bad. Eme' runs wild there.

The reality is that Evins had its better days when TYC decided to do away with the regionalizing concept and spread those Valley kids all over the state. There's just no good answer to any of this. And because there is no good answer, the DOJ is here. I think TYC needs to shut down Evins before it get's shut down by the DOJ. It's coming, and that fat little hefe' "Chuy" can bitch all he wants to Uncle Sam. He has ignored the problems at that facility for too long. Hell, take Pena with him.

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter with regard to Evins is that TYC runs Evins in name only. The Valley politicians run Evins - they have from the very beginning. The Pols in the Valley wanted a regional youth center, but they did not have the money for it, so they looked to TYC. If TYC had been smart, they would have politicked to have the money given to the Valley authorities, while staying out of the mess. As it is, Evins is a perfect set-up for the valley pols. They run the place, but when things go awry, they can place the blame on TYC. It's a great deal for them.

For example: about 2 years ago, Sen Hinojosa held a press conference in which he decried the abuse that TYC staff were perpetrating on the youth at Evins. In the same week, he held a second news conference in which he complained that TYC was "tying the hands" of the staff at Evins and not letting them deal with the "criminals" that were incarcerated there.

Anonymous said...

Evins is the only TYC institution that is staffed and managed because of ethnicity and the ties that bind. No other facility is run this way. No other TYC facility has specific ethnic particular managers and or administration like Evins does. Call it political, call it left ot democratic. But the call still reeks first of racism, and second of corruption there. Chuy runs the show there and laughs about it everyday. The TYC brass were here last week. What is the official report? Release that to the press. Let the light shine on the disturbance here last week. Nothing significant will change unless the facility closes. Any parent out there who has a child at Evins should have their parental rights terminated for allowing their child to be left inside this facility for any longer than 3 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Hey 1:19. You are not just a racists, your are a stupid racist! I concerns me that such a fool can be working at TYC. I feel for those kids.

Anonymous said...

Here's a refreshing idea:

For once, why not keep this blogstring a non-hostile one? Being ugly and passing judgement onto others doesn't say much collectively for TYC's employees, and it also doen't solve anything.

C'mon people...do the rest of us a favor and play nice or play somewhere else!

Anonymous said...

Strike a nerve did I? Guess it takes one to know one. You must be on of the BF staff at Evins. Go ask your pocho buddy Chuy if he does not control things there.

Anonymous said...

No, 2:42, you couldn't be more wrong. I'm at the other end of the state, and no, you didn't strike a nerve with me. Most Victory Field employees have a positive attitude, and yes, I am proud to be a part of that. I hope you get over your bitterness, or at least quit airing it here.

May God bless you through this difficult time.

Anonymous said...

Local elected officials have always protected juvenile facilities in their districts. That is hardly new... in fact, we've already seen it with regard to other TYC facilities this past year.

But on this site, whenever the subject of Evins comes up, there seems to be a consensus that the pols go to more extraordinary lengths to cover up problems than their counterparts elsewhere.

There also seems to be a subtext that this is an extreme case of machine politics, in which ethnically identified pols are in cahoots with local organized crime.

I have no idea if any of this is true... it certainly wouldn't be the first time, though, in the history of juvenile justice. Wonder what Scott thinks about it.

BB

Anonymous said...

Bill,
It is very political in the Valley. The major disruption at Evins over a week ago sent staff to the hospital, broken glass in a dorm, etc. If this had happen a year ago, it would of been all over the news. It is who you know down in the Valley. Evin started with just youth from the Valley, but it became more of a problem for the drugs, gangs, etc. Youth were being helped to escape from their own family members down here. I wish I could tell you it is different, it is not. Plus, most of the people who complained to Chuy and he backed are the people now in charge of the dorms and it is worse than before. It is so easy for staff to complain until it is their turn for the responsibility. Racism should not be the basis or right in who is in charge, but who can get the best treatment program working for staff and youth. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening to the programs in the Valley.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Wonder what Scott thinks about it."

I don't know if it's an "extreme" case of machine politics, but there's an element of that particularly in the history of Evins' creation, as I understand it. However, many of those pols are gone now and their replacements are left supporting the institution without the same personal stakes.

I've never seen any evidence of overt corruption sometimes alleged here by anonymous blog commenters, but there are real-world dynamics fueling that cynicism. It's fairly telling for example that the main complaints about Evins and pressure for reform come from legislators from Houston. The state senator for Evins is Chuy Hinojosa who sits on Senate Criminal Justice, and the rep is Aaron Peña, who chairs the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Both are on the TYC Joint Legislative Oversight Committee.

Both Chuy and Aaron are friends, but it's hard not to think that if either man were cracking the whip harder at Evins, things there would change a lot more quickly.

To 7:07 who writes: "the AG's Office already has a unit similar to that you are proposing." To what division, exactly, are you referring? In 2003 they didn't want the responsibility in their office, which is why Noriega's bill had each judge appoint one.

Anonymous said...

Scott, Chuy & Aaron are not cracking the whip at all when it comes to Evins. All their energy was spent on making West Texas pay for the sins of an administrator/s whose incident/s took the limelight away from the wrongdoings at Evins. West Texas as whole had not experienced such a horrid mess since I've been with TYC. The agency as a whole knows what is going on there and I agree with the blogger that stated the pol machine is very much at work in South Texas. However, anyone who commits a crime against a child whether incarcerated or not, should pay for it. Why do the reps or senators from South Texas treat those matters with nonchalence when it comes to Evins? Why aren't they calling for heads to roll and the closure of that facility?? What is the common thread that keeps it open?

Anonymous said...

Scott, Chuy & Aaron are not cracking the whip at all when it comes to Evins. All their energy was spent on making West Texas pay for the sins of an administrator/s whose incident/s took the limelight away from the wrongdoings at Evins. West Texas as whole had not experienced such a horrid mess since I've been with TYC. The agency as a whole knows what is going on there and I agree with the blogger that stated the pol machine is very much at work in South Texas. However, anyone who commits a crime against a child whether incarcerated or not, should pay for it. Why do the reps or senators from South Texas treat those matters with nonchalence when it comes to Evins? Why aren't they calling for heads to roll and the closure of that facility?? What is the common thread that keeps it open?

Anonymous said...

Having retired, several months ago, after 15 years at Evins and TYC, I just had to comment on some of the postings regarding TYC abuse cases and the Hidalgo County grand juries.
What the AP story failed to mention is that the cases were dismissed after review by not only IG findings but also after viewing the Videotapes as well. Of course the IG is disappointed as they want to justify their existance. TYC staff are fighting for their lives and if they restrain to protect themselves or others, they are now presumed guilty and must prove their innocence. Are there problems at Evins with staff, youth and programs? In some cases, yes, but the same holds true for other facilities. In many cases the better staff have left for other jobs.

The posting that staff at Evins are related to gangs is ludicrous.
Last fiscal year, the number of youth sent to TYC from the three county area of Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr totaled 47 from the 2,322 committed to TYC. Are all these youth at Evins? And they are all related to staff? What about the other beds?
The other post about Evins only hiring on an Ethnic basis is also ridiculous. Hidalgo County, according to 2006 census data is 88% of the population. The staff only relects the demographics of the area. What is the percentage of Hispanics at Giddings or All Price.
Freedom of Speech is invaluable. It is priceless when one uses real data rather than hate and/or racial profiling to categorize facilities or areas due to their population demographics. Is there corruption in Hidalgo County, yes but that does not relfect all the people who live there.

Unfortunately, media has focused on the negative. When we called them to cover positive programs and activities, they would not show up. Blood and gore sells and gets viewers and readers.

Oops, its Sunday, better run over to Evins for visitation, I might have some cousins there and not even know about it.

Anonymous said...

Before we damn regionalization, we need to remember that TYC has never actually tried it the way it is recommended - with very small facilities of 20-40 youth. Part of what drives youth to 'gang' together is protection. Put any one of us in a large institution with 200+ other undersocialized individuals, especially living in big open bays of 24 with no provacy, and we would start looking for like-minded individuals to group with as well. At least for a sense of safety if not actual safety. It is the same dynamic that happens on the street or in large public schools. Sure many youth will bring their gang identification into a facility of any size, but in a small group setting it is much easier to deal with the potential friction between certain individuals and achieve a temporary truce - sometimes even improbable friendships. I have sen it happen. Experienced TYC JCO and caseworkers - tell me you haven't had opposing gang members in your dorms that you were able to work this out with. When it falls apart, it is usually due to the influence of individuals from outside the group you are working with. Small operations like this are expensive, however, so if the legislature and governor really want to give regionalization a try - not just lip service - then they need to put up the money to do it right.

>Don Brantley

Anonymous said...

Resocialization is an interesting word. A word that applies to TYC is "socialization." How do our staff get socialized when they come to work for TYC? If we understand this process, what happens at TYC makes a lot more sense.

When a prospective employee walks through the gate to interview for a TYC job the socialiization process begins. If applying for a JCO position, they will be interviewed by three solid members of the old guard who have maintained the TYC culture for years and who present a united front. The prospective employee doesn't forget who made the decision to hire him. He or she also understands very clearly that those who interviewed and hired him are trusted by their bosses and by their boss' boss.

If interviewing for a Case Manager's position, the prospective employee will be interviewed by Program Specialists (PAs). There are people who have for years been completely loyal to those who ran TYC over the cliff. They are still loyal to the remaining members of the old guard. Some of the newer PAs are trying very hard to prove that they too can be trusted by the old team, so they may be even more eager to support the old culture and not rock the boat.

The same process applies at all other departments. At every stage of his/her career, the new employe has to prove him/herself to these enforcers of the old culture. No wonder everyone sticks together and keeps everything under wraps. They call it loyality. To outsiders, it looks like one big happy family.

Anonymous said...

You said it right: "Basically the law enforcement community in Hidalgo is taking care of its own, and as the original West Texas case shows that's how things work in many parts of the state. It's too politically dicey for local DAs to consistently prosecute police, deputies, prison guards, probation officers, or juvie authorities without facing backlash from interests who are core constituencies."

TYC has always turned a blind eye to the misbehavior of the team players. Often those on the team have been promoted after they have been caught (and after the evidence disappeared - the TYC way). Just look who is happily working at the Annex (and completely protected).

At some places, this type of obstruction is also engaged in by local officials, DAs, grand juries and by some members of the governor's office. What's new?

Anonymous said...

12:42, thanks for your post, your sarcasm is cracking me up. LOL.

Don Brantley nails it much better than I did in my earlier post. True regionalization has never been tried.

It is expensive in the short term but cheaper in the long run.

BB

Anonymous said...

The Lege is not interested in spending more money on TYC. They never have been. They are only interested in ways they can cut the budget. Long-term solutions that make long-term fiscal sense do not appeal to those who have to stand for re-election every 2-4 years. They have to show the voters that they are saving precious tax dollars from those wasteful state employees. Every voter "knows" (unless related to a state employee) that anyone who works for the state is either incompetent, corrupt or lazy, or all of the above!

Anonymous said...

No billing by grand juries is common in protecting not only TYC staff at Evins but police officers and public officials in Travis, Dallas, Bexar, Harris, Tarrant, Williamson Counties, etc. I can think of a half dozen unnecessary uses of force and police shootings here in Austin in just the past two years that should have lead to indictments.(none did) Instead of jail the system just fires them. Even though the Valley has a reputation for corruption,in this regard I am not sure that the Evins situation is that much different than many bigger localities.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Howard,

Do you think the Governor violated the civl rights of TYC employees hired prior to signing SB103 by taking their property rights in their jobs away from them when he changed their status from "for cause" to "at-will"?

Anonymous said...

10:45,

Actually TYC violated property and due process rights on the felony conviction terminations long before SB 103. If memory serves me correctly, I saw 11 legal problems with what was done at the time, and did not believe that a Massachusetts mid-level appeals court decision was sufficient legal justification for what was done.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

HH - Grand juries can also protect law enforcement/TYC employees from the witch hunt, which happened in more than one recent "case" and I use the term sparingly.

Anonymous said...

5:31,

Is that not what I said above?????

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

I don't read it that way. It sounds like you are only looking at cases that should have lead to indictments, but didn't. There are several recent cases that were so petty and should never have gotten to the gj. Good thing they have a little more sense than the experts in the OIG and SPU.

Anonymous said...

Grand Juries are a two way street. If they can protect the guilty, they can protect the innocent. One is the original purpose of a grand jury; the other is not. It is not necessary to directly comment on the original purpose since it is a given. In today's society the wrong purpose is more often served than the right purpose.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

I agree, but there are still good people out there that want to do the right thing with the gifts/tools they are given. I did not realize how good life was on the other side (outside of TYC). It is truly a toxic environment for both staff and kids - no matter how good you try to make it. Best wishes to those still in the trenches - don't forget what is important in your life.

Anonymous said...

9:34

One of the most important things in my life is my 11 year career as a TYC teacher which revolves around helping TYC youth realize their academic potential. I will never lose sight of that.

Some of us "in the trenches" like what we do...I am one of them.

Anonymous said...

Howard, you may have some input that would answer a couple of concerns for me: a) wouldn't a federal grand jury be pulling from the same pool as the state? If the assertions about no-billing are accurate, what difference would it make to go federal? b) A well known professional football coach goes to the airport and they find a gun; he gets a fine and probation etc. A local state senator goes to the airport, they find a gun, he gets arrested and then everybody has a good laugh. Why is it that people think the valley may be more corrupt than big cities?
Bill: for what it is worth, a look at the recent figures on use of physical restraint per 100 students (versus total for facility), showed Evins had 10 times the number of WTSS.

Anonymous said...

3:12

A federal grand jury in Texas pulls jurors from multiple counties over a larger area than a state grand jury which pulls from only one.

Howard A. Hickman

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