TYC sex allegations exceed 750

Exclusive: Complaints filed against guards at all 13 youth prisons, documents show

12:00 AM CST on Wednesday, March 7, 2007
By DOUG J. SWANSON / The Dallas Morning News

Investigators deployed across the state this week will confront hundreds of sexual abuse allegations against guards from every Texas Youth Commission prison, documents released to The Dallas Morning News show.

Juvenile inmates have filed more than 750 complaints of sexual misconduct against correctional officers and other TYC employees since January 2000, according to a compilation provided to The News.

The complaints range from the relatively benign – such as flirting or suggestive letters – to rape. They come from all 13 TYC prisons.

TYC officials who originally investigated the allegations said they were able to substantiate only 88 of them. They acknowledge, however, that the actual count of legitimate complaints is far higher.

In the last seven years, no agency employee is known to have served prison time for sexual abuse committed on the job.

Many of the accusations will get a fresh look from the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement agencies.

"We're going to give this everything we can," said Jay Kimbrough, special master appointed by the governor to head the investigation. "This field is as open to go as deep and as wide and as far back as we need to go."

The 750 allegations could be only a start. The Rangers and others will encounter new charges as well as accounts of assaults that weren't reported until now.

TYC inmate Joseph Galloway said he wants to tell the Rangers of the time in 2003 when a Giddings State School guard forced him into a security cell with a larger, stronger, older inmate. "The dude [inmate] was yelling, 'I want some ass,' " Mr. Galloway said in an interview.

The guard locked the door and walked away, Mr. Galloway said, while the other inmate beat him. "He was hitting me on the back of the head," he said. "He was beating the hell out of me."

Then, Mr. Galloway said, "I allowed him to sodomize me, because I couldn't fight him anymore."

Mr. Galloway, now 19, said he did not report the guard or the inmate at the time "because I didn't want to be ridiculed." But now, he said, "I want to change TYC. People are going through the same things I went through. I don't feel like I have to be hiding everything."

Seeking whistle-blowers

The intensified investigations are part of the management overhaul of TYC by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry's office. The moves came after The News reported in February that for more than a year, agency officials ignored signs of sexual abuse of inmates at the West Texas State School.

A TYC internal review found that administrators were warned repeatedly of suspicious behavior by two high-ranking staffers, but those warnings were dismissed or covered up.

Since then, the executive director of TYC has abruptly retired, and the chairman of its board has resigned. The Legislature named a special committee to investigate the agency. Mr. Perry appointed Mr. Kimbrough as special master to oversee an investigation and recommend major changes for the agency.

This week, more than 70 law enforcement officers were sent to TYC prisons statewide to conduct interviews and seize documents.

"In light of our circumstances, this is part of what we're doing to assure we've got immediate safety at our facilities," said Ed Owens, the new executive director. "We want to provide that command environment."

Mr. Kimbrough said he hopes whistleblowers who may have been intimidated previously will come forward.

"I don't know that I can blame them for being afraid," he said. "I say, 'Come on, you're protected. ...You've got to come forward and give us the information.' "

Paul Bartush, superintendent of the Gainesville State School, said he met with investigators Tuesday. "I've got investigators on campus," he said. "We're providing all the information they're requesting."

A TYC spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the chaplain at the Gainesville unit was placed on paid leave last week pending an investigation. A staff member reported that the chaplain "had some youth in the chapel on occasion by himself," TYC spokesman Tim Savoy said.

Superintendent Bartush said that placing the chaplain on leave was done out of an abundance of caution "in light of the situation that's going on."

The list of allegations of sexual abuse by TYC staff, provided to The News after a request under the state's Public Information Act, runs 105 pages. It gives the date and location of the allegation, the name of the employee who was accused, and the disposition of the case – confirmed or unconfirmed.

TYC officials have cautioned that inmates often use sexual abuse allegations against correctional officers as retaliation. But they also acknowledge that sexual incidents are difficult to confirm and are vastly underreported.

"You can take the number of truths people are reporting," said Neil Nichols, general counsel for the agency, "and you can probably triple that."

Confirmed abuse

Among the small number of allegations originally substantiated by TYC:

- At the Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon, "letters were found that staff brought youth contraband and one letter suggests the staff had a sexual relationship with a youth." The employee resigned in lieu of termination.

- Also at Vernon, a correctional officer confiscated letters written by another guard to an inmate. "The letters cite a sexual relationship including ... scheduling sexual encounters. The letter also implies [the guard] to be affiliated with the Hispanic gang Treces." The guard was fired.

- At the Ron Jackson unit in Brownwood, "youth alleges that [TYC officer] has been requesting youth to expose themselves. [Inmate] states that on 2 occasions at his request, she allowed him to view her without clothing after showering. She alleges that she was given extra free time as a result." The employee was fired.

- "When the student arrived at the Giddings State School, she made statements to staff that she was pregnant by a staff at Marlin." The Marlin employee was fired.

- Also at Giddings, "youth alleges that he and staff are having sex and staff brings him cans of tobacco." The employee was fired.

- At the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, "youth reported that [TYC officer] threatened to give her a CCF-225 [disciplinary write-up] if she didn't show him her breasts." The employee was fired.

- Also in Corsicana, "youth reported that staff has been performing sexual acts [oral sex] on him in the staff's office for several weeks. Youth reports that he was forced to go along under threat of being sent to TDCJ [state prison]." The employee was fired.

About two-thirds of the TYC employees disciplined for sexual contact with youths since 2000 are women.

Sexual abuse by TYC employees is rarely prosecuted, although it is a felony. The agency does not track prosecutions. But a check of public databases by The News found that only five TYC staffers were convicted of related charges in the last seven years.

All received probation. None went to prison.

TYC incarcerates more than 4,000 males and females, ages 10 to 21. They are considered to be the state's most violent or incorrigible youth offenders.

The agency stated its mission this year in a publication sent to legislators: "In the simplest of terms, the job of the Texas Youth Commission is to fix broken children."

Staff writer Emily Ramshaw in Austin contributed to this report.