Former employee sues Al Price facility for wrongful termination

David Yates Jan. 29, 2008, 6:13am

The Texas Youth Commission made national headlines last year after reports of abuse were leaked to the media. Now, a former Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility caseworker is claiming he was fired on trumped-up sexual harassment charges after he reported the alleged abuse of minor inmates.

Jude Iwuchukwu filed suit against TYC in the Jefferson County District Court on Jan. 24, claiming he was wrongfully terminated.

According to the plaintiff's petition, on Nov. 10, 2006, Iwuchukwu complained to Stephone Coward, assistant superintendent, and Cheryl Watts-Doyle, program specialist, at the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont, that youth were being abused.

"Thereafter, and as a result of Plaintiff's report of youth abuse, Iwuchukwu was subjected to accusations that he made inappropriate comments to a female co-worker," the suit said.

"As a result of the retaliatory and false accusations, Plaintiff was subjected to adverse personnel actions, including termination. Iwuchukwu's complaints of youth abuse were ignored by his superiors at the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility."

The Al Price unit was among the 13 state youth correctional facilities that came under scrutiny after a Texas Rangers investigation in 2005 found that key employees of the West Texas State School in Pyote had repeated sexual contact with inmates. A later internal investigation confirmed the findings and said top officials knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

In March 2007, the Texas Youth Commission's board of directors resigned under pressure, and many other top officials were ousted. After a review by an expert panel, more than 200 inmates were released from some of the state's residential confinement centers because their sentences had been improperly extended.

Gov. Rick Perry named Jay Kimbrough as special master to overhaul the Youth Commission.

In his suit, Iwuchukwu's says that each adverse personnel action, including his suspension without pay and his termination, was in retaliation for reporting, in good faith, the unlawful conduct of TYC employees.

Iwuchukwu is suing for past and future lost earnings, medical care, emotional pain, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, economic value of loss of benefits and slander and disparagement of his personal and professional reputation.

He is also suing for a temporary injunction to prohibit TYC from abusing minor inmates and for reinstatement to his former position, plus all court costs.

According to its Web site, TYC is undergoing several reform projects and promotes public safety by partnering with youth, families, and communities to provide a safe environment where youth in the agency's care and custody will receive individualized education, treatment, life skills and employment training, and positive role models to facilitate successful community reintegration.

Iwuchukwu is represented by attorney Thomas Peterson of the Peterson, Petit & Peterson law firm.

Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. D181-109

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