I’ve had several requests from people in the Maud area, and other concerned citizens, for a follow-up on the defunct sex-offender center that was to be placed just outside the city.
I sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management in Austin, and the Cass County Criminal Supervision and Corrections Department for all communications regarding the proposed facility. The documents they sent were copies of emails and letters, with references to phone calls and meetings. Only the written communications were available to be copied.
I’ve tried to summarize the documents into a timeline. This is just a summary; the actual documents are available below.
Since this entire matter was brought to light by Glenda Wilson in her role with Maud’s Neighborhood Watch, I asked her for her narrative, as well. It follows this one.
Wednesday, October 22 2014
First email from Catherine Betts, director of the Cass County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, and Cathy Drake, Programs Director of the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management in Austin.
Per phone discussion, Betts sends photos and a floor plan of the facility in Maud.
Wednesday, October 29 2014
Betts asks Drake if she’s still planning a trip to view the facility. Betts will be out of town, but has an employee familiar with the facility who can show Drake the building.
Monday, November 10 2014
Drake contacts Betts, asking about a conference call. Apparently Betts had mentioned knowing Travis Ransom, who is from Atlanta and works for Senator Kevin Eltife, and asks about previous staffing and budgets.
Drake mentions a vendor who may be interested in the facility, McKinley Knox.
Betts replies to the email with the information requested, and wants to meet the vendor.
Friday, December 5 2014
Drake sends stats on SVPs, sexually violent predators. Mentions that most SVPs that are re-convicted are for “rule violations only.”
Monday, December 8 2014
Betts replies to Drake, saying she doesn’t know when to approach State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (District 1) for “buy in.” She’s been told she should also get buy in from the state representative from Atlanta (District 9), Chris Paddie.
Betts asks about funding and staffing.
Thursday, December 11 2014
Betts contacts Drake (and Marsha McLane, OVSOM’s Executive Director), says Travis Ransom has contacted Pat McCoy, “a Bowie County Commissioner – that just lost in the last election,” who seems to suggest the Mayor not be told of the proposed facility, but that a “progressive” council member might be helpful.
[Actually, McCoy lost in the March 2014 primary, and resigned at the end of the first Commissioners Court meeting in April. Mike Carter, who defeated him in the primary, was sworn in as his replacement the next morning.]
McCoy said that he had been playing “phone tag” with County Judge James Carlow.
[Actually, at that point, Carlow was Judge-elect, having won the November election against Judge Sterling Lacy, who had defeated him four years earlier. Carlow was sworn in January 1, 2015.]
She also relays the conversation with McCoy about her plan to house “older” residents, 55 years of age and up. McCoy agrees that this would “calm some citizen fears and be a talking point in getting buy in for the program.
Thursday, December 11 2014
Marsha McLane emails Betts via Drake’s email account about how many men 55 and over are in the program, and suggests Betts get Travis Ransom’s ok on making her own contacts for the proposed program.
Betts replies that she will check with Ransom.
Thursday, December 11 2014
Betts emails Ransom and asks if it’s okay if she makes her own contacts for the proposed program, and thanks Ransom for actively helping with the project.
Tuesday, December 16 2014
Betts and Drake exchange emails about lack of progress due to holidays, and Betts says she’s received no reply from Ransom.
Monday, January 5 2015
Betts emails Drake and McLane about conference call later that day.
She still hasn’t heard back from Ransom, and isn’t sure if there is support for the program.
Thursday, January 8 2015
Betts emails Drake and McLane, saying she has contacted VanDeaver and “the County Judge,” but hasn’t heard anything. [Unclear whether she means the Bowie County or Cass County judge.]
Related that McKinley Knox was still interested in the facility, and “working on the concept from a treatment perspective.”
Betts asks who has the power to make or break the program – County Judge, local counsel…
Monday, January 12 2015
McLane emails Betts asking for updates, Betts responds that she sent certified letters [apparently to Bowie County Judge James Carlow and Bowie County Sheriff James Prince], but hasn’t heard back.
In the letters, the proposed residents are referred to as “elderly felons.” No mention is made of violent sex offenders or sexually violent predators.
Thursday, January 15
Betts emails McLane and Drake. The new Cass County Judge, Becky Wilbanks, asks Betts to schedule a meeting with Travis Ransom, which she does. She says she hasn’t heard from Bowie County Judge Carlow, and hasn’t received the return receipt for the certified letter.
McLane replies, asking if Betts is going to include Judge Carlow in the meeting.
Betts replies that she just received return receipt from Carlow, and surmises that he called Judge Wilbanks and asked for the meeting.
Friday, January 16 2015
McLane sends Betts an article from the Houston Chronicle, State program out of space to hold sex offenders. Betts replies that some parts of the article are helpful, but others aren’t. McLane replies that the article didn’t mention “elderly SVPs,” just violent offenders.
Wednesday, January 21 2015
Betts emails McLane and Drake, says meeting with Ransom and Cass County Judge Wilbanks was “positive.”
Bowie County Judge Carlow wasn’t in attendance, and says he will get a meeting scheduled.
Betts says Travis Ransom plans to bring District 9 Rep Paddie into the loop, and will start talking with the District Judges in Bowie County.
Friday, January 23 2015
Betts emails McLane and Drake, says the earliest she can meet with Judge Carlow is February 10th, and has a meeting scheduled for 1PM that day. She has invited Travis Ransom, and invites McLane to attend.
McLane replies that she isn’t sure if she can come, but that she’ll be available by phone.
Monday, January 26 2015
Betts emails McLane and Drake, says Ransom will be attending the meeting with Judge Carlow in February, and plans to contact Sheriff Prince.
She outlines preparations for opening the facility, and says that after her meeting with Carlow, it will take 2-3 months to be ready for placements. It would seem that she feels all the obstacles are out of the way.
McLane replies that they have to have a contract, and okay from the Senator and State rep.
Betts replies that Jack Pappas, the Executive Director of Bowie County Adult Supervision, had been brought into the loop, and that although he is not involved with the project, his buy in will have a lot of impact with the district judges.
Pappas is adamant that Betts needs community support and that there needs to be a town hall-type meeting. She says she will talk to him about that at their meeting on Friday.
Thursday, January 29 2015
Betts sends letter to Sheriff Prince, again referring to the program residents as elderly felons, without mentioning that they are violent sex offenders.
Thursday, February 5 2015
Betts emails McLane and Drake that she received receipt on the certified letter to Sheriff Prince, and that VanDeaver’s office had contacted her the day before. Apparently, someone in VanDeaver’s office had signed for the original letter, but VanDeaver either didn’t see it, or had more questions.
Tuesday, February 10 2015
Betts emails Travis Ransom with updates, and states that they plan to have the facility operational by the end of April. She asks that he contact VanDeaver and make sure he “has a clear understanding of the program” and their progress to date. She also asks for contact info for the names Judge Carlow mentioned, “the school contact and the commissioner.”
She says she has a meeting the following day with George Frost, a former coach at Maud ISD and the father of former State Rep. Stephen Frost.
Ransom replies: Boyd Sartin, the president of the school board, and Mike Carter, the county commissioner for that precinct.
Thursday, February 12 2015
Betts emails McLane that Frost had talked to the Mayor (Robert Wells), and that he was going to talk to the school superintendent (Bradon Peavey) and a council member.
She says that Ransom was supposed to meet with Boyd Sartin, the Maud school board president, that afternoon, but that she hadn’t heard anything back. He was also going to contact VanDeaver’s office again.
Tuesday, February 17 2015
After Betts asked for a tour of a similar facility, McLane tells her that the Bowie County facility would be the first “all SVP” facility.
Betts replies that she has a meeting with Mayor Wells and a school board meeting in two days, and that she has left a message for Superintendent Peavey.
Betts plans to post a notice for a town hall/open meeting at the City Hall.
The notice simply lists the time, date, and location of the meeting, and the agenda:
Civl Commitment Program
Cass County CSCD
Wednesday, February 18 2015
Maud citizen and business owner Glenda Wilson is alerted to the town hall meeting by a friend. Wilson researches OVSOM, and begins notifying the community, primarily via Facebook.
Betts emails McLane, asking her to review her talking points for the upcoming meeting.
Thursday, February 19 2015
Betts emails McLane: “Hit Facebook last night.” She later notes Glenda Wilson’s name, and that her Facebook posts were “not emotional.”
Saturday, February 21 2105
McLane emails Betts alerting her to an article in the Houston Chronicle that she says mentions Cass County, but the article simply says “At least one new lockup facility would be opened to house Texas’ most violent sex predators” – Cass County isn’t explicitly mentioned. It’s possible that the article has been edited since then.
It does contain this paragraph, which echoes some of Wilson’s concerns:
More than 360 convicted sex offenders have been ordered into the program since it began, but not a single one has completed treatment and been set free, leading legal experts to question the constitutionality of Texas’ program. About half of those offenders have been convicted of felonies and returned to prison for violating program rules.
Betts replies that there is at Commissioners Court, Wilson is “planning to invade with her army” and that “she is really flaming hysteria in the area.”
Sunday, February 22 2105
Betts and McLane discuss logistical issues, and mention Wilson’s activism, including contacting the Houston Chronicle with more info on the facility.
Betts speculates that Eltife and VanDeaver “are probably being bombarded as well. They’ll hammer county judge tomorrow. Dang Travis and his open meeting.”
Betts later says that “the sheriff of Bowie county is posting on Facebook – wow” and includes a copy of one of his posts early the following morning.
Monday, February 23 2015
Although it wasn’t on the agenda, Judge Carlow allows discussion of the proposed sex-offender facility. He expresses his concerns, and asks for the citizens for a petition showing opposition, that he can show to the people in charge.
Later that day, McLane receives a faxed letter from Rep. VanDeaver. He mentions the “grave concerns expressed by my constituents,” and states that “I oppose the approval of this project and will do whatever I can to keep it from going forward.”
Tuesday, February 24 2015
Both OVSOM and Cass County CSCD issue press releases, pulling the plug on the project.
Glenda Wilson’s narrative:
Late afternoon Wed Feb 18
I was informed by a friend that while they were at Maud School they understood that there would be new residents moving into the Restitution Center and that it was rumored that they would be housing 65 older sex offenders. Basically, my friend was wondering what I thought about our “new neighbors” and they would have thought that I would have been notified if that was the case.
The first thing that ran thru my mind was 65 SEX OFFENDERS!!!!!!… surely this can’t be true. My husband Steve and I began contacting those that I felt should be aware of these “new neighbors” coming into our community. My first contact was Bowie County Sheriff James Prince early in the evening. He knew Cass County Probation was looking to fill the facility but would check into it and get back with me. Steve called our local Justice of the Peace, Susie Spellings, and she was not aware of any plan to house 65 sex offenders here. I next called Judge Carlow, and left a message. Then I called Precinct 4 County Commissioner Mike Carter to see if he was aware of anything in the budget/contract with Bowie County that would allow or inform residents of Maud/Bowie County that such convicted sex offenders would be housed here. He did not, and advised that he would check into it and get back to me. Judge Carlow then returned my call. He said that he was aware of the program and that it was a Cass County issue, out of his jurisdiction. He provided that they were “Texas Sex offenders civil commitments” and that Catherine Betts would be the person that could inform me on the program and provide me with additional facts.
One google search of Texas Civil Commitment of Violent Sex Offenders, and I knew we had a BIG program.
I posted that evening to Facebook Maud Neighborhood Watch. ” For the residents of County Road 2624 and County Road 1202. Please post if you have been contacted by anyone regarding the new residents at the Restitution center in any sort of official capacity. It is my understanding that older male sex offenders recently released from prison will be house there or an unknown period of time before they are released into society.” NO one had been contacted.
Morning of Thur Feb 19.
I contacted Catherine Betts with Cass County Probation, as I wasn’t sure how she was going to make 65 civil commitment sex offenders anything that I, as a coordinator for Maud Neighborhood Watch group, was going to be able to make into be a “GOOD THING” for our neighborhood, Maud or Bowie County. In fairness, I needed to base a plan of action on facts. I asked lots of questions. The information she provided was that it was coming soon, that it would create jobs for the community, that community leaders were aware and there was no opposition, that it was their building and they needed it to be occupied. Betts provided research reference information. I was gathering all the information I could about civil commitment of Texas’ most violent sex offenders. At that time I was told no meeting was required, but they could schedule a meeting to advise us about the population that would be coming. I was asked if I wanted to tour the facility, I declined. If its coming, I needed to focus on how to deal with the safety of our community, and how this is going to change this community.
Betts later advised that she had scheduled an open meeting for March 1 and the notice would be posted at the Bowie County Courthouse later that afternoon. I questioned why OVSOM was used on the notice, and advised her that the address on the post was incorrect. I wondered whether the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management would more accurately notify the community /press /officials of what was coming and the wondered for the need for some sort of comment /press release from Betts’ office. I told her that I didn’t know what, if anything, could be done, but on this issue I’m afraid we will find ourselves on opposite sides. I stated that I would do everything in my power to stop it from coming.
Contacted press to get the story out… nothing.
These elected officials (Prince, Spellings, Carter, Lorance) began to publicly speak up in opposition to these sexually violent predators being housed here. Many used social media to get their message across.
Friday, Feb 20.
Steve Wilson meets with [Maud ISD] superintendent Peavy. He said he knew about it, and that some elected officials from the city and school, as well as influential citizens, had met at the facility, but that he himself was not in attendance. It did not appear that any plans had been made to inform the parents /community that these sex offenders were going to be located less than 1.5 miles from the school. Mr. Peavey stated he believed the project was a done deal and that he didn’t think anything could be done to stop it.
First community member signs petition in opposition
Contact press to get story out… nothing.
Continue to urge local school board officials and city leaders to issue a press release.
Saturday Feb 21 10:30 am
Sign goes up at Alamo Supply
Sunday Feb 22.
32,624 people reached on Facebook. Calls are pouring in. Approximately 600 signatures thus far…. No inquiries from the press and no official press releases.
Sun Feb 22 8:26pm
Bowie County Citizen Tribune story hits.
Monday Feb 23
Commissioner’s Court meeting in the snow and ice.
Tuesday Feb 24
Info hits the gazette.
Mrs. McLane [Director of OVSOM] calls personally. She is concerned how things escalated to the point of bomb threats so quickly after it hit the news wire this morning. She was recently informed that I posted to Facebook earlier in the week. She tells me that had she known that there was opposition, the facility would not have been considered. She told me she had received no inquires from elected officials about the program, and that someone at the state level had notified her office that the facility was available for consideration. She has hundreds of locations offered for consideration – housing these men pays very well. She has a very special “clientel” to represent and her office can’t house them in a community that would pose a threat to them. These are men who have served their time, and it has become an impossible management task. She was seeking immediate legislative assistance. She also said that this facility would have been the first ever to house such a large population. I asked that the community needed to be assured that she would not bring them to this facility. She fulfilled that request immediately.