Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, both already under siege for other matters, are now being accused of failing to prosecute officers of the Texas Youth Commission after a Texas Ranger investigation documented that guards and administrators were sexually abusing the institution’s teenage boy inmates.
Among the charges in the Texas Ranger report were that administrators would rouse boys from their sleep for the purpose of conducting all-night sex parties.
Ray Brookins, one of the officials named in the report, was a Texas prison guard before being hired at the youth commission school. As a prison guard, Brookins had a history of disciplinary and petty criminal records dating back 21 years. He retained his job despite charges of using pornography on the job, including viewing nude photos of men and women on state computers.
The Texas Youth Comission controversy traces back to a criminal investigation conducted in 2005 by Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski. The investigation revealed key employees at the West Texas State School in Pyote, Texas, were systematically abusing youth inmates in their custody.
Burzynski presented his findings to the attorney general in Texas, to the U.S. Attorney Sutton, and to the Department of Justice civil rights division. From all three, Burzynski received no interest in prosecuting the alleged sexual offenses.
“This case demonstrates that a partisan political agenda, with Karl Rove in an orchestrating role, has penetrated the Justice Department and subverted fair-minded administration of the law,” Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, told WND.
It’s just the latest controversy for Sutton, Gonzales and the Bush administration’s direction of the Justice Department. Earlier, Sutton’s decisions to prosecute two Border Patrol agents and Deputy Sheriff Gil Hernandez were criticized as having been influenced by the intervention of the Mexican government.
Gonzales is under heavy congressional pressure in the controversy over the recent forced resignations of eight U.S. attorneys. At issue is whether the Bush administration is directing the Justice Department to pursue politically motivated prosecutions at the expense of fair or even-handed law enforcement.
In the Texas Youth Commission scandal, Texas Ranger official Burzynski received a July 28, 2005, letter from Bill Baumann, assistant U.S. attorney in Sutton’s office, declining prosecution on the argument that under 18 U.S.C. Section 242, the government would have to demonstrate that the boys subjected to sexual abuse sustained “bodily injury.” Baumann wrote that, “As you know, our interviews of the victims revealed that none sustained ‘bodily injury.'”
Baumann’s letter continued, adding a definition of the phrase “bodily injury,” as follows: “Federal courts have interpreted this phrase to include physical pain. None of the victims have claimed to have felt physical pain during the course of the sexual assaults which they described.”
Baumann’s letter further suggested that insufficient evidence existed to prove the offenders in the Texas Youth Commission case had used force in their alleged acts of pedophilia: “A felony charge under 18 U.S.C. Section 242 can also be predicated on the commission of ‘aggravated sexual abuse’ or the attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse. The offense of aggravated sexual abuse is proven with evidence that the perpetrator knowingly caused his victim to engage in a sexual act (which can include contact between the mouth and penis) by using force against the victim or by threatening or placing the victim in fear that the victim (or any other person) will be subjected to death, serious bodily injury or kidnapping. I do not believe that sufficient evidence exists to support a charge that either Brookins or Hernandez used force to cause victims to engage in a sexual act.”
Baumann’s letter went so far as to suggest that the victims may have willingly participated in, or even enjoyed, the acts of pedophilia involved: “As you know, consent is frequently an issue in sexual assault cases. Although none of the victims admit that they consented to the sexual contact, none resisted or voiced any objection to the conduct. Several of the victims suggested that they were simply ‘getting off’ on the school administrator.”
Baumann’s letter also rejected Burzynski’s charges that the administrators at the Texas Youth Commission facility in West Texas had used their position of authority to force the inmates to participate in the sexual acts or that the administrators had lengthened the sentences of the boys to retain willing participants or punish those reluctant to participate.
Baumann wrote: “In order for the government to be successful in a criminal prosecution, it would be essential for us to show that the victim was in fact victimized. Most of the victims were aware of the power that the school principal and assistant superintendent held over them, but none were able to describe retaliative acts committed by either the principal or assistant superintendent. Although it is apparent that many students were retained at West Texas State School long after their initial release date, it would be difficult to prove that either Mr. Brookins or Mr. Hernandez prevented their release.”
On Sept. 27, 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division declined prosecution in a letter written to Lemuel Harrison, the Texas Youth Commission superintendent at the West Texas State School.
Angle maintains the decision not to prosecute was purely political.
“The U.S. attorney’s office in Texas actually prepared indictments in this case,” Angle told WND. “But when the word came from Washington, that’s when Baumann wrote his letter declining prosecution. Sutton’s office dropped the matter on the desk of the local district attorney, but nobody from Sutton’s office said ‘if you can’t go on this case, we’ll help you out.'”
WND asked Angle to explain how politics drove the decisions not to prosecute.
“If you read the letters from Sutton’s office or from DOJ, it’s really amazing what abuse they describe and then downplay as not being serious,” Angle explained. “They describe systematic and widespread abuse of juveniles who were held in these facilities by the people who were administering these facilities, and they acknowledge this fully, yet they determine that the evidence is not sufficient to warrant federal prosecution.”
Angle explained to WND that he found both letters shocking.
“The letters justify not pursuing these cases because, number one, there is no evidence that any of these juveniles felt physical pain while they were being assaulted, and the letters use the word ‘assaulted,'” he said. “And then also, they rejected prosecution because none of these juveniles stated in the investigations that they resisted and objected, which of course the facts of the report show to be the case. This case developed right in the middle of Governor Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign. While Texas is a Republican state, and the Republicans expected to win, still at that time, Governor Perry was facing an election challenge from Carole Strayhorn, a third party candidate who was also a former Republican comptroller in Texas.”
He continued: “I would speculate that the political powers in Texas and Washington in the Republican Party were not interested in this sex scandal coming to light. Sutton and Gonzales let their political responsibilities outstrip their legal responsibilities, and as a result you had children who were in danger of sexual abuse and were left in that danger.”
Angle says that while the U.S. Justice Department and Texas attorney general’s office were not prosecuting in this case, they were actively pursuing minor voter fraud issues with only a handful of allegations to go on.
On March 2, 2007, Governor Rick Perry appointed Jay Kimbrough, his former staff chief and homeland security director, to serve as “special master” to lead an investigation into the Texas Youth Commission sex abuse scandal. Shortly thereafter, the commission stopped a hiring practice that had allowed convicted felons to work as administrators in the system. The practice had involved a requirement that prior criminal records be destroyed for employees hired by the commission.
On March 17, 2007, the entire Texas Youth Commission governing board resigned.
The Texas Youth Commission is the state’s juvenile corrections agency, charged “with the care, custody, rehabilitation, and reestablishment in society of Texas’ most chronically delinquent or serious juvenile offenders.” Inmates are felony-level offenders between the age of 10 and 17 when they are committed. The commission can maintain jurisdiction over offenders until their 21st birthdays.
The Lone Star Project is organized as a political research and policy analysis project of the Lone Star Fund, a federal political action committee organized in Texas. The Lone Star Project has aggressively investigated alleged political abuses within the Texas Republican Party, including playing a leading role in investigating the activities of former Rep. Tom DeLay in the redistricting controversy in Texas.
Bill Baumann was the lead prosecutor in another controversial case. In a case eerily reminiscent of the controversial jailing of Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos while the illegal-alien drug-smuggler they wounded went free, Texas Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez is imprisoned for a year for an altercation with illegal aliens. Baumann urged he get the maximum seven-year sentence.
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