Rick Perry's History of Cover-Up at the Texas Youth Commission

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Ed. note: The following is a documented account of the Texas Youth Commission cover-up scandal that broke in 2007.

On Tuesday, August 24, the Austin American-Statesman reported that sexual abuse and cover-up continue to plague the Texas Youth Commission:

Nearly four years after the Texas Youth Commission was overhauled after a sex abuse and cover-up scandal, four leading advocacy groups for incarcerated youths said Tuesday that little has changed. Widespread unsafe conditions and various forms of abuse and mistreatment continue to plague the agency, they say.

The advocacy groups' letter can be read here (PDF). Following the advocacy group's letter, it was discovered that the Texas Youth Commission ombudsman had resigned two weeks prior. On Friday, August 27, Rick Perry's seven-member board of the TYC lashed out at the advocacy groups, deflecting criticisms as being unfounded and untrue while the ombudsman who resigned claimed, “No youth has said they feel threatened or that they feel abused or unsafe.”

The news last week reads a lot like reports of sexual abuse and cover-up from 2005-2007, when it was discovered that drastic acts of sexual abuse of children at the West Texas State School were swept under the rug and ignored by TYC officials, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Texas Governor Rick Perry. In fact, Governor Rick Perry claimed he knew nothing about the abuse until he read about it in the paper — only for it to be later discovered that his office was informed of a stalled investigation into the abuse as early as February 2005, two years before news reports first came out.

In the coming weeks, the most recent scandal at the Texas Youth Commission will be discussed at length. In order to put these allegations at TYC in context, it is necessary to look back at what happened the last time the public learned of misconduct at TYC. The recap below is an attempt to re-tell the TYC scandal from 2007, using facts and quotes gathered from news stories. The following sources are used repeatedly, and are an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to dive deeper into the scandal:

To read the details of Rick Perry's history of cover-up at the Texas Youth Commission, continue reading below…

How it Started: Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski Launches an Investigation in February 2005

The investigation was led by Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski, and it began at 12:48pm February 23, 2005. (Source: Odessa American Online, “A Ranger's Response”). In the “Summary Report for Administrative Review” from time spent visiting the West Texas State School, horrible behaviors and countless warning signs about the actions of Director of Security and Assistant Superintended Ray Brookins and of Principal John Paul Hernandez are documented.

From the Dallas Morning News story,  “Sex abuse reported at youth jail”

After more than a year of quiet complaints within TYC, the situation in Pyote officially came to light in February 2005, when a Texas Ranger sergeant launched an investigation.  But the matter received little public notice until recently, when state legislators and news organizations, including The News and The Texas Observer, began asking questions.

The two men at the center of the investigation were Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez. Prior to his arrival at West Texas State School, Ray Brookins worked as Director of Security at the San Saba TYC facility, where it was discovered that he had pornography on his computer. In a four year period from 1998 – 2002, Brookins had eight moving violation citations. Worst of all, there were reports of him taking youth from the San Saba facility into his office, alone at night, and closing the blinds. As the Texas Ranger report states, “this example is consistent with well-documented behavior that he later engaged in at West Texas State School.” (Source: PDF – TYC Summary Report, Page 1.)

The 16-page summary of the Texas Ranger report from February 2005 then goes on to detail numerous instances of sexual abuse, mistreatment, and misconduct by both Ray Brookins and Principal Hernandez. A summary of findings (Source: PDF – TYC Summary Report, Page 8) and a timeline of the misconduct by Brookins and Hernandez (Source: PDF – TYC Summary Report, Page 15) lay out the details very clearly. In their excellent story, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, the Texas Observer summarizes the Texas Ranger report:

Burzynski began questioning students about Brookins, but almost immediately the investigation expanded to include Hernandez. The two men were suspended, and the offices and homes of both suspects were searched. Within three weeks, TYC administrators in Austin had documented the following allegations, according to internal agency records: that Brookins had performed oral sex on an 18-year-old student; that he had watched another student masturbate; that he had inappropriately touched at least two other students; and that he talked to students about sex toys, penis pumps, and masturbation. They also learned that Hernandez was alleged to have had numerous sexual encounters with at least four students, aged 17 to 20, and that he had allegedly performed oral sex on each of them. Hernandez allegedly pulled students from classrooms and from dorms on weekends for dalliances in storage closets and restrooms, and for late-night parties in his office, where he plied students with popcorn and movies, according to a list of episodes confirmed by agency investigators. It seemed that the abuse had been going on for quite some time. The boys apparently did not come forward sooner, agency investigators concluded, because of the control the two men had over their release date and access to privileges within the facility. By early April, the inspector general of the agency had determined to his satisfaction that each of the allegations against the men was true. Hernandez was informed that he was about to be terminated, and he resigned. (Brookins had resigned almost immediately after his suspension.)

Earlier this year, in April 2010, Ray Brookins was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. (SourceAssociated Press, “Ex-TYC official gets 10 years in teen's sex abuse”). John Paul Hernandez is still awaiting trial, six years after his actions. (Source: Austin American-Statesman, “Delays in Texas Youth Commission abuse trial criticized”).


“Perry aides aware in '05 that TYC charges not pursued”

That headline from the Houston Chronicle, and the following opening paragraph, lays out what Perry and his office knew and when:

Gov. Rick Perry's staff knew as early as June 2005 that two administrators at a Texas Youth Commission facility were not being prosecuted on allegations of sexually abusing youths in their custody, according to records obtained Tuesday by the Houston Chronicle.

The sexual abuse and misconduct at the West Texas State School was brought to the attention of Governor Rick Perry and his staff as early as February 2005. The Houston Chronicle dug into what Perry and his staff knew — and when he knew it — in two major articles:  “TYC shake-up comes 2 years after probe” and “Perry aides aware in '05 that TYC charges not pursued”. The recap below combines material from those two articles, unless otherwise specified.

  • From 2000 to 2007 — An open records request by the Houston Chronicle for all documents concerning TYC from 2000 to 2007 found that Rick Perry's office received written complaints about abuse at TYC facilities from 33 parents, two students, and two staff members. However, no records produced from the Governor's office showed any correspondence about the abuse at West Texas State School. Yet, a separate open records request from the Houston Chronicle that was sent to the Texas Youth Commission “produced e-mails the commission sent to state leaders about the investigation at the West Texas State School,” including e-mails between Perry's office and TYC administrators in Austin.
  • 2005 – Rick Perry first learned of the investigation in 2005, according to Perry spokesman Ted Royer.
  • February 2005 — Perry aides were notified by TYC of the initial investigation. Rick Perry staff member Alfonso Royal said that, though he did not receive the report, he received the “ranger's notes and talked to the ranger about his investigation.”
  • March 2005 — TYC Chief of Staff Joy Anderson exchanged three e-mails with Royal, which “showed that TYC was keeping him abreast of the West Texas investigation and at least once gave him a verbal briefing.”
  • June 13, 2005 — Royal e-mailed Anderson to ask, “What is going on in the West Texas investigation?” Eighteen minutes later, Anderson replied that “Both the assistant superintendent and the principal resigned in lieu of termination. We aren't aware of any pending criminal changes.”
  • June 2005 – October 2006 — Neither Rick Perry nor anyone in his office checked back with TYC about the reports of sexual abuse for sixteen months.
  • July 28, 2005 — The U.S. Department of Justice reviewed the case at the West Texas State School, but declined to pursue federal prosecution. In their letter of response, they offered explanations of questionable evidence and jurisdiction for not pursuing the case. However, seven months later, Ranger Burzynski explained that the DOJ “prepared an indictment but had to pass it up their chain of command for approval to prosecute. In the end, they didn't get that approval.” (Source: Burzynski e-mail & DOJ e-mail, courtesy of the Lone Star Project).
  • February 21, 2006 — Ranger Burzynski e-mailed Texas Assistant Attorney General William Tatum, alerting him to the fact that the local prosecutor was “very weak” and seeking assistance for help prosecuting the case. (Source: Burzynski e-mail, courtesy of the Lone Star Project).
  • February 23, 2006 — Burzynski e-mailed Tatum again, repeating his request for assistance. He received no response. (Source: Lone Star Project).
  • October 2006 — State Representative Sylvester Turner's chief of staff, Alison Brock, brought the TYC investigative report to the attention of Perry's staffer Alfonso Royal. At the time, Royal said “he was unaware of the West Texas case when she called” — despite records showing Perry's office being briefed on the problems at TYC as early as February 2005.
  • January 17, 2007 — After the November election, Perry's office finally works to get the local DA to “request prosecutorial assistance” to go forward with the case and press charges regarding the incidents discussed in Ranger Burzynski's report.
  • February 18, 2007 — The Dallas Morning News and Texas Observer first discover — and alert the general public — about the sexual abuse and misconduct at TYC. Perry makes claims saying this is the first he learned about the abuse, despite the fact that his spokesperson said he knew about it in 2005, two years prior.

Rick Perry's Reforms Fail to End Sexual Abuse at the Texas Youth Commission

In 2007, once the news of the misconduct and abuse became public, Rick Perry did not launch immediately into seeking reforms. In fact, Perry initially defended his appointees to the Texas Youth Commission Board and insisted they did not need to be removed from their job. From the Houston Chronicle article, “TYC shake-up comes 2 years after probe”:

Dewhurst said he told Perry on Tuesday that the Senate would prefer to put TYC under a conservator and “fire” the entire board. Dewhurst said Perry declined to go along with that.

State lawmakers ultimately overruled Perry, and the board was replaced.

Rick Perry then brought in one of his most trusted advisors, Jay Kimbrough, to serve as a conservator for TYC and make recommendations for reform. In his report from May 2, 2007, Kimbrough identified fifty-six recommendations for reform, including an overarching need for an improved management structure. From the Associated Press story,  “TYC probe results in 56 recommendations”:

The report says the “chief culprit” behind TYC problems was the agency's structure, which left too much power concentrated in the hands of officials at 22 outlying facilities.

“The lack of a strong, centralized management structure allowed leaders at individual facilities to override agency policies, control hiring and wield tremendous influence over the complaint process,” the report says.

Following the 2007 Texas Legislative session, a number of reforms were put in place. The number of children and young adults at TYC facilities were dramatically reduced, and a greater emphasis was placed on education. However, since the reforms were put in place, many at TYC had not adjusted, even by March of 2010. As Scott Henson, Texas' premiere criminal justice blogger, wrote on Grits for Breakfast on March 12, 2010:

TYC is still recovering from upheavals of the last three years, and while progress has been made, some employees have become alienated and in too many quarters its staff exhibit an “every man for himself” mentality. What's more, there's a not-so-subtle backlash from some of TYC's front-line employees against many recent reforms. In that context, Mr. Moore is taking on a particularly important duty. TYC youth have no voice in the process and it's up to the Ombudsman to educate himself about their situation and provide one. I choose to hope for the best and wish Mr. Moore lots of luck in his new gig. 

Moore did not last long at his job. On Wednesday, August 25, 2010 it was discovered that the TYC Ombudsman had resigned two weeks prior, on August 9, 2010, which came as a surprise to many. Moore was the third Ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission since reforms were enacted. His predecessor, Catherine Evans, had resigned after she was caught smuggling “a knife, a cell phone and prescription drugs” a TYC facility in Crockett. (Source: Austin American-Statesman, “TYC Ombudsman resigns”).

What was clear early in 2010 was that the TYC still lacked the “strong, centralized management structure” that Rick Perry's hand-picked conservator, Jay Kimbrough, had identified almost three years prior. Yet, in the Texas Youth Commission strategic plan for 2011-2015 released on July 2, 2010, few of the ongoing structural problems at TYC were addressed. (PDF of TYC Strategic Plan). The TYC report begins by saying, “The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) has undergone a significant transformation during the past biennium” and goes on to argue that:

The agency’s ability to monitor and maintain a safe environment for youth has greatly improved in recent years. Enhancements in dormitory configurations, video monitoring and recording systems, and the presence of law enforcement officers provides greater safeguards for youth and staff than in previous years. Upgrades to training requirements for newly hired staff, coupled with an experienced and professional workforce, also contribute to an environment conducive to treatment and rehabilitation. Finally, professional development and the implementation of evidence-based programs that focus on trauma-informed care, Aggression Replacement Training, and positive behavior have provided more balance to the safety continuum.

–TYC Strategic Plan for 2011-2015 (PDF)

Recent news reports have disputed TYC's promise and claims of improved safety. On Tuesday, August 24, four leading advocacy groups that have worked closely with TYC in recent years argued that systemic abuse still remains. After taking their concerns directly to TYC and receiving little response, the groups sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking assistance. (PDF of advocacy group letter to DOJ). From the Statesman story, “Texas Youth Commission still plagued with problems, advocacy groups say”:

Nearly four years after the Texas Youth Commission was overhauled after a sex abuse and cover-up scandal, four leading advocacy groups for incarcerated youths said Tuesday that little has changed. Widespread unsafe conditions and various forms of abuse and mistreatment continue to plague the agency, they say.

In a formal complaint asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate, Texas Appleseed, Advocacy Inc., the Center for Public Representation and the National Center for Youth Law said the commission is unable to ensure the safety of the 1,700 youngsters it incarcerates because of operational flaws, including inadequate staffing, improper restraints and excessive force.

On Friday, August 27, Rick Perry's board at the TYC lashed out at critics, blasting their report and insisting that all students were safe.


Next Steps for the Texas Youth Commission

In the weeks that come, it is expected that state lawmakers and Governor Perry will review the most recent complaints and hold a legislative meeting to determine the next steps for the Texas Youth Commission. State Senator John Whitmire, who chairs the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has suggested abolishing the TYC. From the Texas Tribune's story, “Advocate: Abolishing TYC Could Be Best Fix”:

When Whitmire first brought up the idea of abolishing or downsizing TYC, Fowler was opposed. She was hopeful two years ago that Townsend, TYC's new executive director, who had three decades in juvenile justice and a track record of successful programs in other states, could save the agency. But after touring the facilities in recent months and talking to inmates, she changed her mind. “I’m certainly open to ideas and thoughts about how to reform TYC short of abolishing it,” [Texas Appleseed legal director Deborah] Fowler says, “but my primary concern right now is making sure kids in TYC facilities are safe.”

Lawmakers who reacted to the advocacy groups' report insisted that any upcoming hearings and additional changes to TYC will focus more directly on ensuring all Texas kids are safe. However, it is apparent that the “chief culprit” of problems at TYC identified by Rick Perry's conservator, Jay Kimbrough, still exists: the lack of a “strong, centralized management structure.”

In the weeks that come, lawmakers, the press, and the public deserve a full account of the most recent reports of abuse, including exactly what happened, when it happened, and who knew that it was happening. The actions taken by Rick Perry and his office from 2005-2007 should raise the awareness of everyone and ensure vigilance that the mistakes of the past are never repeated again.


About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.


  1. And?
    How is this any different from the coverups by the various dioceses in Texas? It's okay for the Catholic Church to coverup sexual abuse of children and teenagers but not okay for state officials? I am not sure how much Rick Perry was involved in the coverup. So far there is nothing to indicate he was.  What was he supposed to do? Call a press conference and let everyone know what was going on? And possibly endanger an investigation?   This will be twisted and turned, you are very good at it by the way, but in reality there is nothing to suggest Rick Perry did anything different than any other governor would have.

    First BOR painted him as a gay governor.  Now he's a child molester. What's next? Maybe he's secretly a Muslim.  He's good friends with the Aga Khan so you never know.  

    You were upset no one commented. So I commented.  

      • The real problem…
        The real problem is that the public for the most part doesn't care about problems in the juvenile criminal justice system just as the public for the most part doesn't care about problems in our adult criminal justice system both of which in Texas are not only systemically corrupt but systemically evil. As is our civil justice system.

        These are not foster children. And some believe, unfortunately, that even with children, you do the crime, you do the time. And they don't care beyond that.

        Idealism is nice, Phillip, but reality is reality. These are not choir boys.  And no one talks much about the real choir boys.

        Or maybe some believe there have been no molestation cases by priests in Texas?

        Maybe we should just set up a fund and pay the boys who are molested, and the girls, at TYC say, oh, maybe $100,000 per molestation, and tell them to move on.

        That is what the Catholic Church has done for years. Some believe it is what the Catholic Church is still doing.

        I was told some have suggested a “citizen review commission” with authority to issue subpoenas and at the very least recommend indictments which some have also suggested with regard to “overview” of our law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. They would have to be elected positions to have any real value but then you look at the State Board of Education and can realize quickly that even electing people to “review” commissions and boards isn't always the perfect solution. The state commissions and boards themselves will oppose it. Just as law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies have.

        How dare we not trust them?  We don't trust them with good reason. Their “position” is that if we don't trust them, they will walk pointing out without realizing they are pointing it out that quite a few would not want to be a policeman or a prosecutor or serve on a commission or board if someone could hold them accountable. That in itself is the main problem. Public service, whether it's in a prison or the halls of Congress, attracts those who simply love the power and love to abuse it.  The bottom line of the “position” is that those who serve in government are supposed to be above the law. And so far, in Texas, they seem to be. And that includes quite a few Democrats as well as Republicans.

        Blaming a governor for a systemic problem may be good politics. But it is not reflective of the reality.

        We need more preventative programs. Not more punishment programs. But the latter is big business for some. And Democrats support it just as much as Republicans do.

        Most Texans, a growing number of whom again no longer vote just because of the (D) or the (R) beside the name, even the “morans” among us are wising up finally, are more concerned with other issues such as the economy and health care.  The latter a growing concern that your candidate doesn't seem to say much about.  Not having to worry about it. Like so many others.  Like Phil Gramm. Who at least was honest and said it didn't affect him because he was old and rich. So what Medicare doesn't cover, he can.

        I am one of many who cannot afford private health care and do not qualify for public health care. And depending on what is really going on, I could be dead in six months. Along with quite a few others who are finding they cannot afford private health care and do not qualify for public health care. Even people with health care insurance are finding it doesn't always cover it all. And so if they can't come up with the cash, they don't get health care. Despite having paid fortunes for the health care insurance.

        They don't care about the choir boys who aren't choir boys.

        Personally I don't care either about the choir boy who pulls a gun on someone in a parking lot in order to get some cash to buy drugs. Most of whom are already on probation. Bleeding hearts by the way are not always liberal. Some are conservative. Many end up bleeding in parking lots after the choir boys shoot them after they rob them.

        How about preventative programs to keep the choir boys out of the parking lots with guns to begin with? How about Rick Perry and Bill White both talk about solving the real problem?

        I do care about the choir boy who goes to school each day and goes home each day to a car or a freeway underpass.

        I haven't heard either Rick Perry or Bill White address that little problem.  Perhaps children, like their parents, are sometimes simply “out of sight, out of mind.”

        • Just like our adult prison population,
          none of these youths were wrongly convicted.

          Snooks, ever heard this:

          “They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

          “He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

          Baby, Are you using the “Snooks” as a verb or a noun?

          • Go get shot in a parking lot and see how you feel…
            I didn't say abuse of anyone was acceptable. But it's there. And shutting down TYC and replacing it with something else is no guarantee the abuse won't continue.

            Sometimes the good guys aren't really such good guys. Maybe John Whitmire should focus on that.  Maybe it's time to get rid of the abusive prison guards along with the abusive law enforcement officers and abusive prosecutors. He really should put up or shut up. Honestly I don't see that he has proposed any viable solution except to blame Rick Perry.

            Maybe what we do need is an elected “public integrity commission” to investigate our officials, the agencies and the employees.  Honestly I don't think too many at TYC would have survived an investigation by such a commission regardless of who had been elected to the commission.

            Again, bleeding hearts are often the ones who end up bleeding in the parking lots after they've been shot.

            Quote the Bible to your priests. Not to me. They belong in prison along with these guards and others who abused children.

  2. Same Cast of Characters
    Isn't this the same Jay Kimbrough, who didn't really fix TYC, who Perry has now sent over to “fix” TxDOT? I don't think he's a “trusted advisor” so much as he's Perry's cover man. And does it bother anybody besides me that, on Arlene Wohlgemuth's recommendation, Jay Kimbrough arranged for TYC to contract with the very guy who screwed up HHSC–Gregg Phillips?  In 2008-2009, TYC paid his company (GHT Development Corporation)a half a million dollars. Hmmm.

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