AUSTIN, Texas — During a federal court hearing in Dallas, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack questioned the motives behind the Texas Rangers investigation into sex trafficking allegations made at The Refuge for DMST in Bastrop.
The Refuge cares for sex-trafficked girls 14 to 19 years old.
A former employee with The Refuge was accused of taking nude photos of two girls at the facility. Those photos were uploaded to Snapchat to be sold for drugs, according to state investigators and Refuge leaders.
The hearing is part of an 11-year-old civil rights case against the State regarding how it cares for abused and neglected children.
The Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) reports show the agency received multiple calls alleging sex trafficking at The Refuge, starting with the first call by Refuge workers on Jan. 24.
The Refuge also called law enforcement immediately, the investigations show. The employee was fired and not allowed to return to the facility.
DFPS removed the children on March 9. The next day, DFPS filed a letter to federal court monitors showing their investigation reveals multiple employees were trafficking multiple girls.
Gov. Greg Abbott called for a special investigation by the Texas Rangers.
In a letter to the governor, Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw wrote that the Ranger investigation found “material inaccuracies” in DFPS’ investigations and no evidence of sex abuse or sex trafficking.
Rangers confirmed the nude photos were taken for the purpose of selling them for cash/drugs. McCraw told Texas lawmakers that he expects criminal charges to be filed for possible exploitation and child pornography.
Judge Jack said the State should seek sex trafficking charges. She questioned the integrity of the Rangers’ investigation considering they were tasked by the governor, who is a defendant in the lawsuit.
“I know exactly where this falls and exactly what to look for. I'm really concerned that the investigation by the Rangers is not proceeding in an appropriate direction,” Jack said.
She told the court monitors to make a criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Texas for possible production and distribution of child pornography charges, sex abuse, sex trafficking and obstruction of justice.
The Court will monitor Texas foster care until the state meets federal standards.
"Given our commitment to providing the best possible care to the victims of trafficking, we will continue fully cooperating with the multiple agencies investigating the two episodes of egregious employee misconduct we immediately reported earlier this year. When complete, we are confident their parallel investigations will reveal our continued adherence to the highest standard of care for the girls in our care," Brooke Crowder, The Refuge founder/CEO, said in a press statement following the hearing.
The Refuge was temporarily closed by the State as the investigation continues.
PEOPLE ARE ALSO READING: