Texas AG Office Didn't Pursue Abuse Case

The Associated Press
Friday, March 9, 2007; 9:56 PM

AUSTIN, Texas -- A state assistant attorney general received a report a year ago that graphically detailed the sexual abuse of inmates at a youth prison but declined to pursue the case because of jurisdictional concerns, according to e-mails obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

Attorney general spokesman Jerry Strickland said the lawyer, Will Tatum, should have forwarded the report to his supervisors before responding to the February 2006 e-mail, but he didn't follow agency procedures.

The abuse allegations at the West Texas State School in Pyote are at the center of a widening scandal at the Texas Youth Commission. State leaders dispatched law enforcement officials this week to the commission's headquarters and all 22 of its youth facilities, including the school, after learning that TYC officials knew about abuse claims for months but did nothing.

Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski, who sent the e-mail, told lawmakers this week that he had pursued the case since 2005 but could not get federal, state or local officials to prosecute. State Attorney General Greg Abbott has since opened an investigation.

Two days after Burzynski sent the e-mail, Tatum correctly told him that the Ward County district attorney would have to ask Abbott's office for help on the case, Strickland said.

"However, knowing the seriousness of the allegations contained in that e-mail, action would have been taken by the attorney general's office, and this agency would have actively engaged in the matter in any way possible," he added.

Tatum declined to comment Friday evening.

Before Burzynski's e-mail was released, attorneys from Abbott's office said Friday that they would appear the week of March 19 before a Ward County grand jury that will investigate the case.

Burzynski's report included several statements from students who said they were molested by two former officials at the Pyote school.

Neither man has been charged. Ward County District Attorney Randall Reynolds has said the cases stalled because of a "breakdown in communications."

Burzynski described a different scenario in his e-mail to Tatum, which Abbott's office released to the AP under the Texas Public Information Act.

He said he filed the case with federal prosecutors because his local prosecutor was "very weak." But Department of Justice officials didn't approve the indictment they prepared because the suspects could be charged only with misdemeanors under federal law.

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