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Texas Youth Commission Pays $625,000 to Settle Abuse Suit

To settle a federal lawsuit, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) agreed to pay $625,000 in damages to four youths who were grossly abused by the states’ corrupt juvenile justice system.
The largest payout of $345,000 went to plaintiff Joseph Galloway, who had filed suit alleging that the TYC failed to protect him from being sexually molested by a guard, raped by a cellmate and beaten on several occasions by other juveniles.

Three other youths, identified only as J.A., J.W. and A.B., split the remainder of the settlement for $150,000, $105,000 and $25,000, respectively. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, and named thirty-eight individual defendants.

Joseph Galloway, 20, spent four years of living hell in the corrupt confines of the TYC. During that time he was sent to the Marlin, Giddings, Evins and Crockett units. Prior to his incarceration in TYC facilities, Galloway had been held in a state mental institution for disabilities stemming from bipolar disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome, characterized by major mood swings and uncontrollable outbursts. Both conditions are clinically-recognized mental disorders and both required Galloway to take heavy doses of an extremely powerful medication called Clonidine.

Even though TYC officials knew that Clonidine caused drowsiness and dizziness, they persisted in charging Galloway with disciplinary infractions for trivial offenses such as falling asleep, playing with a banana, looking out the window, and shaking hands with another offender. On two occasions he received disciplinary charges for wearing an extra shirt be-cause he was cold. Each of those infractions served to extend his time in TYC facilities.

Galloway’s sentence was also extended when he was denied credit for several programs that he had actually completed. No less than four TYC administrators, Don Freeman, Geraldo Panuelas, Teri Wilson and Blu Nicholson, knew that Galloway had completed the program requirements for release but deliberately denied him program completion credit. Wilson went so far as to send a letter to Galloway’s parents insisting that their son would not be released even though she was aware he had completed the required programs.

As if bogus disciplinary charges and false imprisonment were not bad enough, Galloway alleged he was sexually assaulted by TYC guard Alexandra Warmke during the time he worked for her in the prison’s kitchen. Warmke was accused of approaching Galloway and telling him “It’s my turn to touch you,” just before she performed oral sex on him.

While Galloway was being held at the Giddings State School, TYC guard James Henry deliberately placed him in a cell with a much older and larger juvenile offender who openly indicated his intention to rape him. Galloway tried to defend himself but was literally beaten into submission and brutally sodomized. To add insult to injury, the attacker also bullied him out of his meal that evening.

When Henry later escorted Galloway to the shower he noticed his bloody underwear and commented sarcastically, “What’s wrong with your ass?” Henry never took Galloway to the infirmary for medical treatment. Even several weeks later, when Galloway complained to the nurses about blood in his stool, no serious inquiry was made by the medical department as to the cause of the bleeding. He was only given Metamucil for “constipation.”

Medical records indicate that Galloway did receive treatment several times after being beaten by other prisoners. In one racially-charged incident at the Crockett State School, Galloway’s jaw was broken and had to be wired shut. He was given pain medication that sometimes caused nausea.

Guards were given wire cutters and instructed to cut the wiring if it became necessary to prevent Galloway from choking on his vomit. However, when he became nauseous from the medication the guards refused to help; one told him to “hang his head upside down over the toilet and let the vomit drip out.” Afraid of choking to death, Galloway literally ripped the wiring out of his face.

Another plaintiff in the TYC lawsuit, A.B., started his nightmare in the Texas juvenile justice system at the age of 16. In one year he was sent to four different units – Marlin, Giddings, Gainsville and Mart. A.B. suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that was characterized by unwanted thoughts and persistent repetitive behavior. His time in TYC facilities was extended when he received disciplinary charges for such things as not marching properly and call-ing his mother on the phone. A.B.’s OCD-driven behavior required him to call his mother at the same time every night.

A.B. was small in stature, and after being attacked by larger, stronger juveniles, he often received disciplinary in-fractions for refusing to leave protective custody. Rather than being cognizant of A.B.’s cries for help, TYC guards mocked him.

A third plaintiff in the lawsuit, J.W., suffered a broken jaw when he was assaulted by two other juvenile offenders. The injury did not occur immediately; rather, when TYC employee Shiree N. Wooden saw the youths fighting, instead of separating them she locked all three in a bathroom. The other juveniles then broke J.W.’s jaw.

The fourth plaintiff, J.A., was sexually abused twice by another youth who had a history of sexually assaultive behavior. TYC guard Jerome Williams was aware of the attacker’s history but left J.A. in the cell with him anyway. J.A. was physically assaulted on at least one other occasion and given a disciplinary charge when he refused to leave safe-keeping. He eventually tried to commit suicide.

Like Galloway, the other plaintiffs in the suit had been diagnosed with some type of mental disability prior to being incarcerated, and all suffered violations of their constitutional rights. Further, as a prerequisite to being re-leased, all of these young offenders were required to participate in what the TYC calls its “Resocialization” pro-gram. Part of the Resocialization program requires participants to “check and confront” misbehavior by other youths.

During this process, juvenile offenders engage in “huddle ups” to confront misbehaving peers. A.B. was beaten by other juveniles on several occasions and labeled a snitch for participating in the “check and confront” process. As a result he refused to engage in the process – which meant he was unable to complete the Resocialization program required for his release.

The Resocialization program also requires youths to admit culpability for the crimes that brought them to prison and even for crimes they may never have committed. Although he was convicted of a sex offense, A.B. continued to maintain his innocence. His conviction was on appeal and any admission of guilt might have had adverse consequences in his criminal case. Yet when A.B. asked to talk to counsel about that dilemma, TYC officials consistently denied him privileged communication with his attorney.

Lawyers for Galloway and the other plaintiffs pointed out that the defendants’ actions constituted a deprivation of their clients’ constitutional right to contact with legal counsel, and violated their Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination. It was also demonstrated that prisoner-on-prisoner violence in TYC facilities was five times the national av-erage and higher than even in Texas’ adult prison system.

Despite extensive evidence of misconduct, the TYC denied culpability and insisted the only reason it had agreed to the $625,000 settlement with Galloway and the other plaintiffs was “to avoid the further expense and risk of litigation.” See: Galloway v. Texas Youth Commission, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Texas), Case No. 1:07-cv-00276-LY.

In reality, however, the agency was still reeling from a widespread corruption and sexual abuse scandal involving high ranking TYC administrators that was exposed in 2007. [See: PLN, Feb. 2008, p.1].

Further, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed suit against the TYC in 2008 related to abuses at the agency’s Evins unit. The DOJ required the Evins unit to come into compliance on 26 different issues, including protect-ing juveniles from harm and improving staffing ratios. Investigators had found that in some cases, youths who didn’t pay protection were being assaulted by other juvenile offenders. [See: PLN, Oct. 2008, p.50].

When the TYC corruption and sexual abuse scandal became public, it was discovered that youths had been filing grievances against the various abuses they suffered at the hands of guards and other juveniles but TYC administrators turned a blind eye, often giving inappropriate responses or no responses at all.

Even after TYC officials agreed to speed up the process for investigating grievances and complaints, the state Auditor’s Office found that the investigative process for fiscal year 2008 took twice as long as it did in pre-scandal 2006.

“It was horrible before,” said state Representative Aaron Peña, whose district includes the Evins unit. “The administration was in protectionist mode and I assume it’s somewhat difficult to get rid of that culture.”

That turned out to be an understatement. Between 2008 and 2009, deficiencies in the TYC were still so pronounced that the Office of the Independent Ombudsman and the Texas House of Representatives proposed abolishing the agency and creating a new one combined with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. Although the measure was narrowly defeated, it was indicative of how problems in the TYC remained unresolved. [See: PLN, March 2010, p.28; May 2009, p.24].

More recently the TYC continues to experience significant shortcomings, including the indictment and resignation of the agency’s newly-appointed Ombudsman in November 2009. [See: PLN, July 2010, p.18].

For its part, the Texas legislature is showing signs of retreating from its more lenient post-scandal policies requiring the release of nonviolent juvenile offenders. In 2009, legislators passed a measure that prohibits the release of youths with serious mental illnesses until the TYC can ensure they will receive treatment in community programs – which has the effect of keeping mentally ill juveniles in TYC facilities for longer periods of time. Under the law now in place, there is a good possibility that Joseph Galloway would still be imprisoned – and suffering – in TYC custody.

Sources: Associated Press, KENS 5 CBS Evening News, The Texas Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Office of the Inde-pendent Ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission – Quarterly Report through December 2008

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Related legal case

Galloway v. Texas Youth Commission