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Texas Youth Commission Ombudsman Resigns Following Smuggling Indictment

by Matt Clarke

On November 30, 2009, Catherine S. Evans, a former Dallas state district judge and the newly-appointed ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), resigned after she was indicted on a third-degree felony charge for smuggling a prohibited weapon into a TYC facility. [See: PLN, March 2010, p.28].

In 2007 the TYC was rocked by a scandal involving the widespread physical and sexual abuse of juvenile offenders, which led to a complete overhaul of the agency. [See: PLN, Feb. 2008, p.1]. As a result of remedial efforts, the Office of the Ombudsman was created with a mandate to protect juvenile prisoners from abuse.

The Ombudsman’s Office has charted a stormy course since its inception in May 2007. After it was found that Will Harrell, the first ombudsman appointed by Governor Rick Perry, had a prior arrest for reckless driving that disqualified him from the position, the hiring policy was changed to accommodate his arrest record. However, he resigned on June 1, 2009 to become the TYC’s director of special projects, leading Gov. Perry to appoint Evans to the ombudsman’s job in September 2009.

A pressing issue in Texas prisons at that time was contraband smuggling, especially cell phones. Evans claimed that she became interested in investigating how contraband could be smuggled into TYC facilities. In a preliminary official report filed by Evans and deputy ombudsman Susan Moynahan, Evans said she had entered the Al Price State Juvenile Correc-tional Facility in Beaumont carrying “a brown canvas bag containing a weapon, an iPhone, prescription medicine and $300.”

According to the report, “Ms. Evans carried her bag through the metal detector and the alarm sounded. Ms. Evans opened her bag and the guard glanced in, but none of the items listed above were identified. The guard made no further effort to identify what set off the detector’s alarm.”

Evans stated that subsequent conversations with Al Price security personnel revealed that “dorm staff often work the gatehouse and are not trained in conducting proper searches.” It is against TYC rules for visitors to carry weapons, cash or cell phones into state juvenile facilities.
Evans said she hoped the report would spark an investigation into lax security by TYC staff. Instead, it sparked an in-vestigation into Evans. According to Gina DeBottis, director of the TYC’s Special Prosecution Unit, during a separate inci-dent when Evans visited the Crockett State School her handbag was found to contain a “Swiss Army-type knife” and a vial containing a powder that initially tested positive for illegal drugs but was later found to be dishwashing detergent.

In October 2009, TYC Executive Director Cherie Townsend prohibited Evans from entering any TYC facilities pending the outcome of an investigation into the contraband smuggling. Moynahan stepped down on October 8, and Evans re-signed when she was indicted for the Crockett State School incident in November 2009 – just two months after her appointment.
“Security officers found a very small Swiss Army knife that I had completely forgotten was in my handbag,” Evans said. “What should have been the simple matter of disposing of it has now become a much more serious issue. It was a regrettable mistake. I am very sorry it happened, but I am now prepared to defend myself until this is resolved. I am confident that I did not violate the law.”

Gov. Perry accepted Evans’ resignation, and in March 2010 appointed John Moore, a former U.S. Marshal, as the TYC’s latest ombudsman. Presumably Moore has neither an arrest record nor intentions to smuggle weapons or other contraband, which will let him concentrate on protecting juvenile offenders from abuse – which should be the ombudsman’s primary con-cern.

Sources: Austin American-Statesman, Dallas Morning News

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