A former principal of a West Texas juvenile who claimed inmates lied when they told investigators that he had sexually assaulted them in darkened classrooms, closets and storage units was acquitted Monday of all charges against him.More from NPR. It's hard to know what to make of this news given all that's occurred in the wake of the original allegations against Brookins and Hernandez. After all, lots of people have lost their jobs as a result, both immediately thereafter and via the continued downsizing of the agency. And the state has charted a new policy path on juvenile justice in the wake of, and largely because of, the allegations against Brookins and Hernandez that are way too far down the road to think about retracting. So beyond those immediately affected, mostly this verdict will allow everyone to confirm their own prejudices about the agency and its past, whatever their view: Those who think the agency was troubled and its downsizing justified and necessary will point to Brookins' conviction. Those who think the agency endured a witch hunt, that dozens of people were fired unfairly, and that claims of dysfunction and corruption were overblown (and there are still quite a few in the agency's front-line ranks), may now point to Hernandez's acquittal to bolster their arguments.
Jurors deliberated for about six hours before returning the not guilty verdicts on the 11 counts against John Paul Hernandez. He had faced up to 20 years in prison on the case's most serious offenses — sexual assault and improper relationship between educator and student — which are second-degree felonies.
Hernandez was accused of sexually abusing the young men in 2004 and 2005 at the West Texas State School in Pyote.
"Six years I've been waiting to hear those words," Hernandez said. "I've already served a six-year punishment and finally a weight has been lifted."
All of Hernandez's accusers testified against him, telling jurors that Hernandez talked to them about pornography and fetishes before fondling them and performing oral sex.
Hernandez took the stand in his own defense and denied their allegations, saying the young men lied in their statements to Texas Rangers investigators. Hernandez's attorney, Albert G. Valadez, has said the former inmates made up the allegations so they'd be released from the facility, which closed last summer.
A former corrections officer at the prison testified for the defense that she heard two inmates — one of them an accuser in the case — talking about fabricating allegations of sexual abuse so they could go home.
Hernandez was the second former administrator at the prison to be prosecuted. Ray Edward Brookins, the former assistant superintendent at the Texas Youth Commission facility, was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison.
For my part, I think both can be true, and both analyses have merit: When legislators began to peel back the onion at TYC - and I had a front-row seat for much of that process - there was a lot to be concerned about. IMO the shift toward de-incarceration - reducing the number of inmates in youth prisons and doling out grants to counties to manage them on their end - was totally justified and overall has worked out well. (Indeed, I believe it's the best model for reducing the size of the adult penal system..) Some of the problems discovered with education, treatment, overmedication, use of isolation, lack of oversight of private contractors, etc., were egregious, including quite a few things that had nothing to do with staff-on-youth sexual abuse. But I also think the purge of TYC staff who had nothing to do with abuse allegations - sometimes based on petty, years-old criminal convictions the agency knew about when they hired them - was wrong and unfair. And the first round of administrators brought in from the adult prison system were a full-blown catastrophe for the agency from which it's arguably still recovering.
Given the radical changes already implemented at TYC and the fluid political environment (the agency may soon be abolished and merged with the Juvenile Probation Commission), only History, with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight will be able to judge the result. Until then, this verdict closes one unhappy chapter in the story of Texas juvenile justice, further thickening an already dense and convoluted plot. A few more chapters remain to be written, though, before it's possible to tell if the tale will turn out a tragedy or have some kind of unlikely happy ending.