10/09/2011

House Arrest: Juvenile Injustice in Texas

 
READER ADVISORY: The following story includes graphic descriptions of alleged sexual behavior. Reader discretion is advised. To protect the privacy of individuals described, and because it involves juveniles, names and other identifying details in this account have been changed. All other information in this story is completely accurate. Meet Jason. He's your typical, average, run-of-the-mill 13-year-old boy. He's handsome but shy, with a warm, slightly mischievous smile, curly black hair and deep brown eyes.
He likes football, skateboarding, go-carts, video games and sports cars. He could be the boy next door. He could be the boy down the block, or across the street. He could even be your own kid.
So why is a county in Texas calling him a rapist?
Late one June afternoon, Jason's neighbor, Jim Dixson, came to Jason's rural East Texan home. He urgently summoned Jason and his parents and asked them to come over to his house to discuss a private matter. Then Dixson accused Jason of having coerced Dixson's 9-year-old daughter into masturbating him the previous December.
"He kept saying, 'You did it! You did it! Didn't you? Don't deny it!'" says Jason. "I kept telling him I didn't do anything, but he wouldn't listen, he kept saying, 'Are you calling my daughter a liar?'"
After a long period of irate accusations by Dixson and adamant denials, Jason got up and left - refusing to be abused any longer.
"I told him, 'Yeah! I'm calling your daughter a liar!' and went home," says Jason. "My parents stayed and kept talking to him."
After more than an hour of discussion, Jason's parents managed to convince Dixson not to call the police, on the condition that they get Jason into some kind of counseling program.

"We believed Jason when he said he didn't do anything," says Deborah, Jason's mother. "We didn't think he needed any counselor, but we wanted to keep the peace, and avoid any more trouble. This just seemed like the best way to do it."
That night Deborah called her father in Dallas and told him what happened. She asked him to please help find the boy a counselor, to make Dixson happy.
"I was pretty upset right from the get-go," says Darryl, Deborah's father and Jason's grandfather. "I just assumed Jason must've done it. I didn't know what to do, but I said I'd help find a counselor like they asked me to. I sure didn't trust that Dixson was going to keep his word about not filing charges."
Darryl's prediction proved accurate. Not two weeks after the initial confrontation and accusation, a private investigator, hired by Dixson, came to Jason's Anderson County, Texas home in the company of a deputy sheriff. They had come to arrest Jason for raping a child.
"I couldn't believe it," says Deborah. "Dixson had broken his word, just like Daddy said he would. They were going to take my son to jail!"
Deborah and Mark, Jason's parents, managed to persuade the deputy sheriff to allow them to bring Jason to the county juvenile detention center in the morning, and surrender him there.
"The private investigator told us right there at the door that there was no way he believed Jason did what they said he did, because he had investigated the case," says Deborah. "But he said he had no choice, it was his job."
The following morning, that late day in June, Deborah and Mark took Jason and surrendered him to the authorities.
It was one of the hardest things a mother and father could ever have to do - give their child to the state because he was accused of a crime he didn't commit. But they did it. Then they hired a lawyer.
The Drama Begins
Texas law requires that when a juvenile is held he or she must be granted a "detention hearing" within two days of the arrest. It was at Jason's detention hearing that the drama - which Jason's family says seemed to alternate between farce and tragedy - began.
The only person who spoke before the judge at the hearing was a representative from Child Protective Services of Texas - not the prosecutor, not Jason's defense lawyer, not Jason's parents, and not even Jason.
No one even read aloud the specifics of the allegations made about Jason. Jason was never even given an opportunity to look the judge in the eye and say, "I didn't do it."
The judge, prosecutor, and CPS officer always referred to Jason's alleged crime only in general terms, with the specific details left a mystery even to Jason, and Jason's family and friends who were present all agree that it just seemed to be assumed that Jason did the crime.
The CPS representative asked the judge to order that Jason continue to be incarcerated in the county juvenile detention center for ten "business" days so they can "make an evaluation," and because they wanted to make sure Jason had not sexually assaulted his 10-year-old brother, Sam. (Keep in mind that no one was alleging that Jason had ever harmed his brother, or even had a predilection for boys).
To the horror of Jason and his parents, his defense attorney, Gene Yarborough, told the judge, "We agree to the ten day incarceration."
"I was in shock!" says Deborah. "I yelled out right there in the courtroom that we did no such thing. The judge ignored me and ordered Jason kept in jail for ten more days, so that CPS could do their thing. I was just floored!"
Yarborough explained that he believed this was the best approach at that time. He felt that this judge almost automatically sends children back to detention in the detention hearing regardless of testimony and evidence. He didn't think it was wise at that point to antagonize the judge in any way. Nevertheless, Yarborough acted contrary to the expressed wishes of Jason and his family, the clients, so Deborah fired him on the spot.
The judge also ordered that Jason and his family move out of their small Anderson County, Texas town and never come near the alleged victim or her family ever again. To obey this judgment, Deborah and Mark sold their home for half its market value and moved to a neighboring town. Jason will most likely never see the home where he grew up ever again.
It was two days later, while reviewing the documents provided to Jason's family by the prosecutor, that Jason finally heard the specifics of what he was supposed to have done. There were three sworn affidavits.
The first statement was by the alleged victim, 9-year-old Monica. In what would be a bad episode of a sitcom if it weren't real, Monica wrote that on the last Christmas morning - while Jason's parents were in their bedroom and while Jason's 10-year-old brother Sam was in an adjoining room that has no door to separate the rooms - that Jason approached her in the living room of his home, exposed his penis, and demanded that she masturbate him. She claims that Jason told her that if she didn't comply that a "little man dressed in black" would come and "kill Sam" (Jason's little brother).
Despite the on-the-face absurdity of the claim, the prosecution also seems not to have noticed that the 9-year-old alleged victim made no mention of alleged semen or of an alleged ejaculation by Jason, and made no mention of pubic hair. In fact, Monica's statement only described Jason's genitals as "oval" - nothing more.
In short, her description of the alleged event sounded very general and was missing what would seem to be likely details.

The second complaint substantially contradicted the first one. A 12-year-old girl named Cassandra wrote it. In what one would think would surely be dismissed as hearsay in an adult legal proceeding, Cassandra claimed Jason described the incident with Monica to her - but Cassandra got the alleged facts all wrong.
Cassandra claimed the alleged incident between Jason and Monica took place at a time other than Christmas (although she couldn't say exactly when it occurred), and that it happened in a tool shed.
She also alleged that Jason told Monica that a "tall man dressed in black" would come and kill Jason's little brother Sam unless Monica complied. (Curiously, this version of the allegation did mention pubic hair, and alleged that Jason ejaculated - although there was no description of Jason's genitals in this statement either.)
Jim Dixson, the alleged victim Monica's father, had made the last written statement. He essentially admitted that he had refused to accept Jason's denials of abuse and had repeatedly browbeat Jason for over an hour.
But he also claims Jason finally confessed that he did it.
"That was a total lie," says Jason. "I got tired of being yelled at, and I got up and left." Jason's mother and father say the same thing.
"He never said he did it," says Deborah. "He's been saying all along that he never did anything to that girl."
Jason's parents also discovered that Dixson is employed as a Juvenile Detention Officer with a neighboring county's sheriff's department.
"This is a man who should know better than to scream and yell at a kid to try to force a confession," says Mark, Jason's dad. "It's also a man who knows exactly how to play the system."
 Also in the documents provided to Jason and his parents by the prosecutor, Deborah and Mark discovered that CPS (for whose investigation Jason continued to be incarcerated for ten business days) had some fundamental errors in their files - they had Jason's age as 14 years, and alleged victim Monica's age as 7 years. (Jason is 13, and was at the time of the alleged abuse. Monica was 9.) They also had addresses and details of the alleged crime wrong.
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