TYC: Can You See the Elephant?

Amid the human drama of the saga of physical and sexual abuse, cover-ups, and gross mismanagement that continues to unfold at the Texas Youth Commission, few are turning to look over their shoulder at the proverbial elephant stomping through the room:

Who knew what, and when did they know it?

It doesn’t take a Leon Jaworski to realize that this could be the most inflammatory aspect of the entire TYC scandal. Perhaps that’s why the mainstream media, which has barely touched on the topic, is handling the issue with kid gloves.

There is plenty of potential blame to go around. Texas Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and even the U.S. Department of Justice’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, could all be laid to waste on this one by the time the Joint Select Committee of the legislature and other agencies investigating the scandal finish their work (which, admittedly, could be more than a year from now).

That Perry, Abbott, and even the feds should be the major focus of the blame is fairly clear. It’s so clear, in fact, that the Texas Youth Commission has been working almost as hard at covering Perry’s ass as it has its own.

Earlier this month, the Commission released to the media emails sent to four staffers working for state senators on the chamber’s Criminal Justice Committee. They look like an effort to shift blame away from Perry, Abbott, and the TYC to the lawmakers. While a Dallas Morning News story claimed the emails were “detailing possible sexual abuse,” a review of the same emails acquired by the Current under the Texas Public Information Act showed they were, in fact, fairly innocuous and made it appear as though the Commission had everything under control. TYC tried to make the claim that two years ago they informed state senators of this larger problem, but review of the emails TYC voluntarily released mention only one incident.

Joy Anderson, former TYC chief of staff (who retired last year), emailed five senate staffers on March 9, 2005, noting:

“Dwight Harris, TYC Executive Director, wanted to be sure your senators had information about the status of this investigation at TYC’s West Texas facility. We will keep you updated as we have additional details. As of yesterday, no arrests have been made.”

The email contained a “Statement Concerning Investigations at West Texas State School” and discussed allegations related to that facility’s assistant superintendent, Ray Brookins.

The email also included a confidential update on the investigation that was for “information only,” and not intended for release.

The TYC’s blatant fanning about of the emails did nothing to improve their case, and even caused State Senator John Whitmire to tell the Dallas Morning News that the Commission was “wasting everyone’s time talking about an email.”

Indeed, it was a waste of time. Other information that has been made public as the scandal has broken show that Perry, and most certainly Abbott and the DOJ, knew there were problems with the TYC as far back as 2005. On its website, the Lone Star Project has an email from a Texas Ranger dated February 21, 2006, and addressed to the Texas Attorney General’s office that states Brookins, the assistant superintendent at the Ward County TYC facility, was allegedly having sex with inmates. It goes on to say two federal investigators — one a U.S. attorney from San Antonio — interviewed the victims almost a year before the TYC scandal stories broke, but the federal indictment against the TYC that they were preparing was abandoned, says the website, because they couldn’t get final approval from “up their chain of command.” It is not hard to make the leap — considering the recent revelations about the DOJ’s purges of U.S. attorneys seemingly out of lock step with Republican policy — and conclude that the blind eyes the governor and state and federal AGs turned to the sexual abuse of children under state care was another act of “got-your-back” GOP partisanship. 


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