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Prison administrators plead not guilty to sexual abuse

Two former youth prison administrators pleaded not guilty to charges they sexually abused teenage inmates at the juvenile detention facility.

The charges are the most serious to emerge from the scandal that erupted after news accounts revealed that Texas Rangers had found rampant sexual abuse at the remote prison in 2005, but prosecutors and the Texas Youth Commission took no action.

The report by the Rangers, a state law enforcement agency, accused Ray E. Brookins, assistant superintendent at the West Texas State School in Pyote, and John Paul Hernandez, principal at the jail, of sexually abusing inmates ages 16 to 19. Both were allowed to quietly quit their jobs in early 2005.

The indictments were issued more than two years after the Rangers' report was handed to a local prosecutor who has since recused himself. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has taken over the case.

Hernandez, 41, remains jailed on $650,000 (478,000 EUR) bond. He was charged with one count of sexual assault, nine counts of improper sexual activity with a person in custody, and nine counts of improper relationship between a student and educator.

Brookins, also 41, who is free on $100,000 (73,500 EUR) bond, faces two counts each of improper relationship with a student and improper sexual activity with a person in custody. He declined to comment after the brief hearing Thursday.

Hernandez's lawyer, Albert Valadez, asked the court to pay for an investigator to help with the defense, but the judge refused until Hernandez could prove he had no other financial options.

Hernandez has been unemployed since he was fired from a charter school when his employers realized he was being investigated for sexually abusing teenagers.

Since the scandal broke in February, the state Legislature has pushed for a complete overhaul of the youth commission. The executive director and the board resigned. The agency was put into receivership and a conservator was appointed to overhaul the commission.

Also Thursday, the state Senate unanimously approved an overhaul of the state's juvenile justice system. The plan adds more guards, enhances investigative powers and prohibits courts from sending youths to state lockups for misdemeanors. A similar bill also is moving through the House.

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