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Texas AG Office Didn't Pursue Abuse Case

By LIZ AUSTIN PETERSON and APRIL CASTRO
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.

"In short, I had to file it with the local DA that I didn't want to in the beginning," Burzynski's e-mail said. "He hasn't done anything with it and I am losing hope that he will before the statute of limitations expires."

At a Thursday legislative hearing, Republican state Sen. Chris Harris of Arlington criticized Abbott's office for not getting involved sooner.

When questioned by Harris on Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Don Clemmer said he did not know if anyone from his office talked to the district attorney.

Strickland said Friday that the attorney general's office began an aggressive investigation once Reynolds asked for help this January. Reynolds did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Also Friday, the TYC official responsible for investigating abuse claims was suspended with pay amid allegations that he redacted information related to reports of sexual abuse by the Pyote facility's employees.

Ray Worsham, director of the TYC's office of youth care investigations, had participated in an internal investigation into the abuse claims.

"There were allegations that he had done some unauthorized redacting of documents," said TYC spokesman Jim Hurley. "I can't comment on the legality of what was done, but ethically it's wrong. No state employee should ever do that. It will not be tolerated."

Worsham is being suspended while the allegations are investigated, Hurley said. There was no telephone listing for Worsham.

© 2007 The Associated Press