Friday, March 09, 2007

Should Rangers "take a hit" on TYC?

Nate Blakeslee says that after Brian Burzynski's testimony yesterday to the Joint Select Committee about abuses at a West Texas juvenile corrections facility, "Clearly, the Rangers will not be taking the hit–and rightly so–for the fact that not a soul has yet been arrested in what is emerging as one of the worst scandals in recent memory." (See prior Grits coverage of yesterday's hearing.)

Nate should know. He's the reporter who first broke the story at the Texas Observer.

Still, I have to wonder. Somebody on the committee, I think it may have been state Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, but I couldn’t tell, State Rep. Debbie Riddle asked why Burzynski didn’t just “slap the cuffs on” the suspect. I found his reply unsatisfying - he said that making the M.O. public would invite other not-real victims to copycat the charges, and if they all knew the elements of the M.O., he said, it would be impossible to tell which were true.

As I wrote in the comments to Nate's blog item about yesterday's committee hearing (from which this post is adapted), to me that’s not good enough for three reasons:

1) The Ranger had already searched the suspect's home to find the porn, etc., discussed in his report, which according to his testimony yesterday was completed by April 2005. He would have given the same probable cause in the search warrant affidavit about victim testimony that caused him to search the administrator's residence.

2) It’s incorrect that arrest warrant affidavits include the level of specificity he told the committee. I've reviewed hundreds of these things over the years in county courthouses all over the state. Though it's true such affidavits often contain the most information publicly available about an investigation before trial, in fact, many of them are fairly vague and perfunctory, merely stating what reliable facts or testimony supports the officer’s belief that all the elements of a crime are present, but not in tremendous detail. (Any police beat news reporter could confirm for you these affidavits' frustrating brevity.)

3) Once Burzynski believed Ward County DA Randy Reynolds wasn’t going to prosecute, the risk that the media would read the arrest warrant affidavit, to me, becomes a lesser concern than the idea that an alleged pedophile is running a youth prison. He was being told by the US Attorney and the County Attorney that these were misdemeanor offenses, which meant that for much of last year he was under the impression that the statute of limitations might expire by Feb. 2007 (or earlier, that would be two years after his investigation began).

Why didn’t Burzynski just cuff and stuff the guy? Perhaps because arresting a state agency administrator like that is a politically charged deal, especially during a hot gubernatorial election year, and he feared going out on that limb alone, understandably.

Think about it: If the Rangers had evidence on a drug case, say, about someone who wasn't a corrections administrator, would they similarly wait months for a DA's permission to arrest?

An alternative interpretation might be that Burzynski did a good job investigating the case, but didn’t have the gumption to stand behind his work, force the issue with an arrest, and let the chips fall where they may. By his own admission, he could have.

What do you think? Should the Rangers take a hit?


Anonymous said...

There are many troubling aspects of the whole TYC scandal but one thing stands out to me. A registered sex offender was FIRED because he was a registered sex offender, NOT because he committed any crime against any of the children in custody YET, those that have committed sexual crimes against these children have NOT been arrested. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this picture?

tttt said...

Yes, the Rangers should take a hit. The Ranger should have screamed bloody murder to get some action. We have seen the results of this inaction.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: You are not the only person who sees a problem with using the David Andrew Lewis case as a vehicle to argue about the systematic dereliction of duty/cover up/corruption at TYC. Mike Ward's story in the Austin American Statesman yesterday, seemed to me to conflate two different issues: that of Brookins and Lewis. But the Lewis case does highlight the other problematic issues at TYC.

As you rightly note, Lewis was a registered sex offender working in a privately owned and operated TYC facility. It's important to mention, too, that given that Lewis is now 23 years old, he committed the offence for which he registered at the age of 15, when he was a juvenile. You'll note from Ward's story that the Governor is going to use this case to seek to relax rules about the sealing of juveniles' records. Yet can we really be so sure that that sort of action in the Lege would actually prevent the scandal that Nate Blakeslee uncovered at TYC? Not necessarily.

For Lewis, the problem is that he is now caught up in something that is much bigger than his individual case. And this allowed Ward to take the Lewis story and amplify it through the systematic corruption at TYC. It's not my role to comment on whether or not a registered juvenile sex offender should be working with youth -- change in people is possible, after all. Maybe Lewis had reformed?

But maybe he hadn't. And furthermore, the cultural climate that we are in doesn't permit such close contact between SOs and youth. And it doesn't look good, to put it mildly, for TYC that it seems not to care about either of these issues. So, though Lewis's case may be swept up in the hysteria, it confirms more of what Nate Blakeslee uncovered in the original story from Pyote. That nobody, but nobody, seems to have taken any action to prevent victimization of incarcerated youth through meaningful review. The Lewis case proves that there is no meaningful review, neither in TYC nor in its private contractors.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just possible that Lewis needed a job in order to survive - and maybe this was the only job he could find. It wasn't too long ago that one of the Houston TV channels made a big deal out of finding a registered sex offender on the job - cleaning cages at the animal shelter. Some facts and reasoning might be in order here, though I am not holding my breath.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Whatever the merits of Lewis' situation - and I agree we label too many people sex offendersand forbid them too many jobs - the fact remains it was against the rules to hire him! They aren't following their own rules, which themselves are inadequate and according to testimony invite abuse, particularly retaliation against staff and youth who complain.

That said, it's INCREDIBLY ironic that the only person who's actually been fired over this (others are suspended with pay) is somebody who NOBODY thinks committed any misconduct on the job. They need to get after the folks who were involved, not dilly dally around with symbolic stuff.

Anonymous said...

Back to the question in the title, I vote yes. If he had the authority to arrest the guy, and the evidence, and didn't do it, he didn't do his job, so yes.