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Texas Rangers' investigation of TJJD finds criminal violations, but no wider pattern of abuse

Suspects were arrested and charged in three TJJD sexual misconduct investigations, DPS said.

AUSTIN, Texas — An investigation by the Texas Rangers into reports of illegal behavior with youth at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) found five criminal violations but concluded the actions did not represent a wider pattern at the department.

Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) in July that the Office of the Inspector General for TJJD and TJJD’s Independent Ombudsmen reported potentially illegal behavior from certain staff members. Abbott asked DPS Director Colonel Steven C. McCraw to have the Texas Rangers begin an investigation in the letter. He also asked for a report on the allegations following the investigation to move forward with appropriate action.

On Monday, TJJD said the inquiry concluded the actions of former staff members who committed unprofessional or illegal acts did not involve any “anomalies, trends or patterns,” such as the same suspect committing multiple offenses, crimes committed at a specific time of day or crimes at a particular facility.

TJJD said the inquiry found the Office of the Inspector General “deployed appropriate investigative methods, secured available evidence, submitted relevant evidence for analysis, utilized digital forensic investigators when necessary and submitted competent and thorough case files to the SPU.” As a result, the inquiry “did not identify any problems related to OIG investigations that need corrective action,” according to TJJD.

A DPS memorandum showed the department found five out of nine investigations into abuse, neglect and exploitation violated policy and constituted criminal violations. These cases were forwarded to commissioned officers with the Office of the Inspector General for criminal investigations.

The criminal violations included:

  • Violation of civil rights person in custody; improper sexual activity
  • Sexual assault
  • Improper sexual contact with person in custody
  • Possession of child pornography
  • Sexual performance by child

Suspects were arrested and charged in three of these investigations, according to DPS. Attorneys and the investigator in the fourth case determined the findings did not warrant criminal charges. Prosecutors in the fifth case determined there was insufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges.

A week after Abbott called for the investigation into TJJD in July, a former TJJD employee was arrested and charged with indecency with a child. Suspect Deena Riley, 44, joined the agency in 2020. She resigned from her position as a youth development coach at McClennan County Juvenile Facility in Mart in January.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a separate investigation into five juvenile correctional facilities in Texas.

The facilities under investigation are:

  • Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood
  • McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart
  • Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg
  • Gainesville State School (EDTX facility)
  • Giddings State School

The Justice Department said it has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations in this matter. But it said it found significant justification to open the investigation. It said:

  • "Over the last few years – and as recently as last week – at least 11 facility staff members have been arrested for sexually abusing the children in their care. While persons charged are presumed innocent unless convicted, these arrests support a need for a thorough investigation.
  • "There are reports of other misconduct by staff members. For example, staff members have reportedly paid children with drugs and cash to assault other children. There are also reports of staff sharing pornographic material with children.
  • "There are also reports of staff members’ use of excessive force on children, including kicking, body-slamming and choking children to the point of unconsciousness. In an incident from last February, staff reportedly pepper sprayed a child and placed him in 'full mechanical restraints,' including handcuffs, a belly chain, shackles and a spit mask, and then body-slammed him onto a bed."

The Department of Justice said it had also received reports of at least two suicides in recent years. It said the number of youths with serious self-injuries in Texas facilities in 2019 more than doubled compared to the previous year.

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