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Conflict of Interest in Texas Rangers’ Investigation of Deaths at LaSalle-Operated Jails?

by Matt Clarke 

In January 2019, the Dallas Morning News reported that Louisiana-based private prison company LaSalle Corrections, which operates eight jails in Texas, employs a former Texas Ranger whose son oversees that law enforcement agency. The Texas Rangers are responsible for investigating deaths at seven of the eight LaSalle-operated jails in the Lone Star State. 

The facilities operated by LaSalle have long been criticized for violating jail standards and using undertrained staff. Deaths at the company’s jails have resulted in multiple lawsuits. 

The increasing number of deaths in Texas jails led the state legislature to pass a law in 2017 requiring counties to have an outside agency investigate prisoner deaths. Most counties designated the state’s top law enforcement agency, the Texas Rangers, as their investigative agency with the approval of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. 

Nothing much was made of those decisions until the Dallas Morning News informed the Commission that LaSalle’s director of governmental affairs was Bob Prince – a former Texas Ranger whose son, Randall Prince, is now the deputy director for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and in charge of overseeing the Texas Rangers after having served as chief of the agency for four years. That revelation prompted Commission executive director Brandon Wood’s staff to contact LaSalle and discuss designating another outside agency to investigate deaths at the company’s jails in Texas.

“While I have full faith and confidence in the Rangers not being influenced one iota, we are looking at the possibility of having someone else designated because we want to make sure there’s no room to doubt that deaths in custody are being investigated properly,” Wood said.

“It’s disturbing to find out that the former Texas Ranger and longtime DPS officer Bob Prince is a Director of Government Affairs for LaSalle Southwest Corrections,” noted Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project. “Worse, his own son works at DPS in an oversight position of the Texas Rangers. So when a Ranger is sent to investigate LaSalle deaths, which occur frequently, I’m sorry to say, there is likelihood of conflict of interest.”

Currently, if the Texas Rangers are called to investigate a LaSalle jail, they will conduct the investigation but Randall Prince will recuse himself and have one of the Department of Public Safety’s two other deputy directors oversee the case, according to DPS spokesperson Katherine Cesinger, who emphasized the Rangers’ “well-deserved reputation for conducting comprehensive and unbiased investigations.”

LaSalle’s director of operations, Jay Eason, said the firm “does not view [Bob Prince’s] role with the company as a conflict of interest when it comes to the Texas Rangers investigating deaths in custody.”

It is worth noting that the law requiring an outside agency to investigate prisoner deaths is the Sandra Bland Act. Sandra Bland was a young, black female motorist who committed suicide in a jail near Houston in 2015 after she was manhandled by a DPS trooper during a questionable misdemeanor arrest. The incident was video-recorded by the trooper’s own dash cam, and the trooper, Brian Encinia, was fired. Perjury charges filed against him were eventually dismissed and he agreed not to work in law enforcement again. [See: PLN, Mar. 2019, p.10].

Texas state troopers also are known as an elite law enforcement agency and work for the DPS, just like the Texas Rangers – which indicates a “well-deserved reputation” does not mean an agency is without fault or shortcomings.

The only LaSalle-operated facility in Texas that has not designated the Texas Rangers as an outside investigative agency is the Jefferson County Downtown Jail. 

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Sources: dallasnews.com, tcjs.state.tx.us

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