AUSTIN, Texas – Police went to 22 Texas Youth Commission facilities and the agency headquarters Tuesday to investigate claims that young inmates were sexually abused and that agency officials covered it up.
Jay Kimbrough, appointed by the governor to look into the allegations at a West Texas youth prison, said the officers would conduct interviews at the prisons and halfway houses, secure equipment and collect documents if necessary.
He also issued a warning to agency employees.
"If you are part of this gig, you need to move on or we're going to find you and prosecute you," Kimbrough said.
The Texas Youth Commission houses about 2,700 offenders ages 10 to 21 who are considered the most dangerous, incorrigible or chronic. Its new board chairman pledged Tuesday that the agency would cooperate with the investigations.
"I'd like to assure everyone that the board is very, very interested in a new direction of the Texas Youth Commission," Don Bethel said. "We are going to cooperate with everyone."
Late last month, state lawmakers questioned agency staff about an investigation in 2005 that had found evidence that high-ranking officials at the West Texas State School in Pyote had repeated sexual contact with some of the 250 boys and young men housed there. An internal investigation found prison staff members had complained about the abuse to their supervisors but that no one took action for more than a year.
State lawmakers have complained that they did not know of the problems until this year. But the agency's former chief of staff, Joy Anderson, sent an e-mail about the problem to staff members of several members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in March 2005.
The e-mail, given to reporters, said up to 19 students were alleged to have been subjected to sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior, and said staff members were "deeply" upset by the allegations.
Sen. John Whitmire, the committee's chairman, said he never got a copy of the e-mail and didn't even know there was a facility in Pyote until three weeks ago.
The Texas Senate asked Republican Gov. Rick Perry last week to fire the board and take over the troubled agency.
Perry instead demoted the board's chairman and appointed Kimbrough, his former deputy chief of staff, as a special master to conduct an independent investigation. He also ordered the agency's acting executive director to design and implement a rehabilitation plan.
The recently appointed acting executive director, Ed Owens, said the agency will have a "zero tolerance policy of any type of mistreatment of youth."