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A whistle-blower
comes out

A whistle-blower
comes out


When a gay male math tutor reported wrongdoing at a West Texas juvenile detention center, he set in motion a statewide scandal.

In 2002, then-15-year-old Adam Cooper was sentenced to nine months in a Texas juvenile prison--or "school," as some like to call it there. Two-and-a-half years later he was still incarcerated. Why? Because he refused to give in to the sexual propositions of two male administrators.

And Cooper was far from alone. As The Advocate first reported in the May 22 issue, an investigation launched in 2005 by the Texas Rangers, the state's elite law enforcement agency, revealed that assistant superintendent Ray Brookins and principal John Paul Hernandez used their power over release dates to bargain for sex with countless young men under their care at the West Texas State School in rural Pyote. This year in April they were indicted on 23 counts--ranging from sexual assault to improper relationships with students--for their involvement with six inmates in particular, ages 16 to 19, in 2004 and 2005.

It was a gay man from Midland, Marc Slattery, who blew the whistle on their misdeeds after witnessing them as a volunteer math tutor at the school. Six months into his tenure there in 2004, Slattery started hearing stories: kids huffing Freon and drinking on the roof of the gym with Hernandez; kids partying after hours with Brookins in the administration building--kids paying the sexual price to keep on track for release.

Slattery reported the hearsay to a security staffer and to the superintendent in charge of the facility. But nothing happened: The security staffer told Slattery not to believe a word out of any kid's mouth, while the superintendent said the scenarios were inconceivable.

Then one February evening in 2005, Slattery was leaving campus about half an hour after the 8 p.m. curfew and paused at the guardhouse that separated the locked areas from the administration building. Suddenly, the guard's radio sprang to life with a call from Brookins to the school's business manager, Mike Kirby.

"I heard Mr. Brookins scream over the radio about why the kids weren't in the administration building yet," Slattery, 47, tells The Advocate. "I looked at the guard and I said 'What's this? Is this what I've been hearing about?' " The guard said yes.

"At about 8:45, Brookins called yet again," Slattery says, "screaming even louder for them. I watched, and I saw Mike Kirby hustling real fast with five kids and bringing them in."

Stunned, the math teacher turned onto a frontage road that took him alongside the administration building. He saw the five kids through a window in the lit conference room. "They'd all taken their jackets off, and at least one of them had taken his shirt off, and I thought, No, this is really not happening."

The next day Slattery called the Texas Rangers and got the attention of Sgt. Brian Burzynski, who went to the school to investigate. That April, having gathered detailed reports from students and staff, Burzynski recommended to the local district attorney that charges be filed against both Brookins and Hernandez.

The two immediately resigned, but the district attorney essentially shelved the case. The Texas Youth Commission conducted its own investigation and also found that the administrators had abused their positions, but that internal review stagnated as well.

It wasn't until this February that the case resurfaced, when a Texas state senator brought up the subject during routine budget hearings. Local papers jumped on the story, triggering a statewide scandal and a top-to-bottom overhaul of the Texas Youth Commission.

As for Cooper, now a 20-year-old who identifies as gay, he was finally released in November 2005 when the parole board realized how long he had served. He talks about the time he spent at the school only reluctantly, acknowledging he was indeed "abused" but declining to go into details. Anguish is audible in his voice.

Slattery, meanwhile, has been hailed as a hero for his part in busting Brookins and Hernandez--although that esteem was tarnished somewhat by the revelation in March that he was arrested in 1986 at age 26, accused of attempting to sexually assault a 17-year-old boy. Slattery ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and received probation--and he says he was up-front about his record when he applied to be a volunteer. The Youth Commission reportedly is now investigating why he was allowed to volunteer in the first place.

Understandably, Slattery would like the focus to remain on the victims at the school. "Remember, it's just about the kids," he says. "I got put in an incredible position when nobody else would do anything. The staff knew what was going on and they did nothing. It pissed me off that it took a volunteer, willing to risk everything, for these kids. I did the right thing."

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