AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas Ranger told lawmakers he tried in vain for two years to get prosecutors to look into evidence that employees at a youth prison in West Texas had repeated sexual contact with the young inmates.
He took the results of his 2005 investigation of the West Texas State School in Pyote to federal, state and local prosecutors, but none would pursue the case, he said.
"I promised each one of those victims that I would do everything in my power to ensure that justice would not fail them, the Rangers would not fail them," Brian Burzynski told a legislative committee Thursday, his voice quivering. "I can only imagine what the students think about the Ranger who was unable to bring them justice."
Recent discussions of the agency's budget brought Burzynski's investigation to the Legislature's attention, and an internal investigation confirmed his findings and determined top officials knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.
This week, state leaders dispatched law enforcement officials to all 22 state youth facilities and the commission's headquarters to investigate as the sexual abuse scandal became public.
The Texas attorney general's office opened an investigation and aimed to bring the case before a grand jury by May. Lawmakers urged them to hurry.
The legislative committee Burzynski testified before, set up to look into the scandal, also gave the Texas Youth Commission Board of Directors a vote of no confidence during its first meeting Thursday after board members refused to resign.
"You're responsible for 5,000 children that are incarcerated and they're God's children," said state Rep. Jim McReynolds. "I read (investigation reports) last night 'til I wanted to vomit."
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.
During the often tear-filled testimony, members of the board claimed they didn't know about many of the allegations and 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."
Bethel insisted that the board did the best it could with the information it had.
"I don't think anyone else would have done different than what this board did," Bethel said.
Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who leads the committee, told the five board members they should all resign: "I think you ought to do the state and the young people of Texas a service by getting out of the way and letting someone else lead."
Investigators on Thursday converged on a halfway house in San Antonio after getting a tip that the superintendent had been shredding documents. Executive Director Ed Owens had previously ordered that no document be destroyed at any of the facilities.
"They conducted a search of her office, vehicle and residence with her consent and they seized state-issued computers as well as a shredder and its contents," said Ted Royer, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry. "She was immediately escorted off the facilities and Ed Owens has ordered that she be suspended immediately while this investigation moves forward."