March 09, 2007
Texas Ranger testimony on TYC

The stuff is really starting to hit the fan in the Texas Youth Commission scandal.

A Texas Ranger who investigated allegations of sexual abuse at a Texas Youth Commission school told lawmakers Thursday he saw "kids with fear in their eyes" who felt "trapped" in a system that wouldn't help them.

"I'm here today because I've got a promise to keep," Brian Burzynski told a joint legislative committee looking into the unfolding sex abuse scandal at state youth facilities.

"When I interviewed the victims in this case, I saw kids with fear in their eyes, kids who knew they were trapped in an institution within a system that would not respond to their cries for help.

"Perhaps their families failed them, TYC definitely failed them. I promised each one of those victims that I would not fail them."

After recounting how he broke the sex abuse case at the West Texas State School in Pyote, the 37-year-old Fort Stockton resident received a standing ovation from lawmakers and members of the public.

"We've got one great Ranger here today," said Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, who chairs the House Corrections Committee.

Two weeks after the sex abuse scandal broke, the Joint Committee on the Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission passed a no-confidence vote against Gov. Rick Perry's board appointees, and several committee members pointedly requested them to resign en masse.

"I think you should do the state and the people of Texas a favor and get out of the way," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Perry waded in with a pointed prepared statement of his own.

"The governor believes that every member of the TYC board must be willing to devote their full time and attention to correcting the problems at the youth commission. Any member who is not willing to do that should resign immediately," the statement read in part.

"Any crimes committed by TYC personnel, staff or administration will be uncovered, investigated and prosecuted."

So there's a conflict right now between the joint committee, who wants to throw the bums out, and Governor Perry, who thinks they're doing a heckuva job. That, as much as anything, will continue to drive this story. The Lege in general is already miffed at Perry's recent power play by executive order. They're not going to cut him any slack here, and every new revelation is going to bring renewed and more heated calls for an independent board to be brought in to really clean things up. (I hear Harry Whittington is available.)

And the case for a clean sweep is pretty compelling. There's a clear disconnect between what the board members are saying and what the facts on the ground are.

Lawmakers are trying to determine who knew that inmates had accused top officials of molesting them, when they knew about it and why they didn't stop the abuse and expose it.

Members of the board said they didn't know about many of the allegations and that they didn't have time in their meetings to categorically address reports of abuse.

"I've never been involved in anything where you had to follow up on a case that was done by a Texas Ranger or by a police department or was turned over to a district attorney," said board Chairman Donald Bethel. "We didn't know anything about that."


Recent talks about the agency's budget brought attention to Burzynski's investigation.

An internal investigation confirmed Burzynski's findings and said top officials knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

Bethel insisted that the board did the best they could with the information that had been made available to them.

"I don't think anyone else would have done different than what this board did," Bethel said, under pointed questioning from lawmakers.

"You don't think this could have been done better?" Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, shouted angrily.

The panel of lawmakers grew increasingly incensed as the board said they believed the case had been concluded when two suspects resigned.

"Do you not have a responsibility to see how your agency responds to the matter? What safeguards have been put in place to protect the children?" asked Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who leads the committee.

Whitmire later asked each board member to resign.

Each of the five board members professed their desire to help the state's children.

Board member Gogi Dickson said she would not resign because "I believe in helping the children of Texas and my background prepares me to look at different issues, look at all sides."

If I were on the Joint Committee, I'd be pretty peeved by a response like that. All sides of what, exactly? What facts are currently in dispute? What's your plan of action to fix what we know for sure is broken? Why are you all so damned passive?

One of the most aggravating thing about this whole scandal is that so far nobody has been arrested for anything related to the molestation charges. As we know, the two top officials at the Pyote facility, who have both been accused of sexually assaulting the teenage inmates, were allowed to resign, and the local District Attorney, who had jurisdiction, did nothing to follow up. What's worse is that no one who could have put pressure on him to take action did so. Back to the Chron:

Don Clemmer, deputy attorney general for criminal justice, also came under fire.

When the local district attorney in the West Texas case failed to pursue criminal charges, the Rangers called his office in early 2005 for help. He told them he couldn't do anything unless Ward County District Attorney Randall "Randy" Reynolds asked him to help.

That led lawmakers to inquire if Clemmer ever called the district attorney to see if he needed help. He said he had not.

Nobody who could have taken action did so. That's the bottom line. More from the Observer, Vince and Vince again, Rep. Pena, and Grits.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 09, 2007 to Scandalized!