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Strike Three?

Four juveniles escaped from Serenity Place in Crockett on Thursday, May 4. Photo by Cody Thompson.

Serenity Place Set to Close

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – Earlier this week, rumors began to circulate indicating Serenity Place in Crockett would be closing its doors. On Thursday, Sept. 21, a text from Serenity Place owner Chris Brown was obtained by The Messenger which stated the facility would shut down in approximately two weeks.

The text stated, “On last Monday, we met with CPS (Child Protective Services) in Austin. While we have had some successes in Crockett, we have also had some serious issues, namely several kids have been injured during fights.”

The text continued, “The (CPS) concern was that with our current staff, (they) are too inexperienced to manage high risk kids. We were given the option of dropping our license and reorganize and reapply after submitting an approved improvement plan. We will begin working with a consultant to address our deficiencies and recruit staff committed to serving vulnerable kids.”

The text concluded with, “Thank you for your continued support and like the Phoenix, watch us rise from the ashes.”

A second text stated, “Let everyone know we will close in 2 weeks.”

Calls to Serenity Place were unreturned as of press time.

A call was also placed to Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation Executive Director James Gentry on Friday, Sept. 22 and his response partially confirmed the rumors.

“There is a temporary shutdown they are planning for two weeks. I plan on visiting with Mr. Brown on Monday to get a better feel for what’s going on. The little bit he was able to share with me indicated they were in the process of revamping some of the programs and evaluations through a consultant. They are waiting for the finalization of that, in terms of their licensing,” Gentry said.

As to what will become of the children currently housed at Serenity, Gentry said it was his understanding they were being re-distributed to other sites.

“What the timeline for all of this is, I don’t know. I think this is something that is being encouraged by CPS in the interim as they review the programs and the management of the facility,” Gentry said.

The recent history of the facility can be described as checkered, at best.

First, there was the Crockett State School which closed in 2011. After the closure, an organization known as Cornerstone Programs came into Crockett and established the Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Facility.

Cornerstone Programs is a privately held organization specializing in juvenile detention and residential treatment centers (RTC).

The facility was closed shortly after it opened thanks to the efforts of State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).

The former state school facility sat empty once again until a second privately held organization known as Serenity Place – Houston entered into an agreement with the City of Crockett to re-open the facility.

Serenity Place opened its doors in August 2016 and from the outset it was faced with a variety of issues. Whitmire once again questioned the need of the facility and once those clouds began to disappear, allegations of abuse and neglect began to surface.

The storm clouds reappeared in late October of 2016. A press release from Crockett Police Chief David “Buddy” Cross indicated the facility was under investigation by the Crockett Police Department with assistance from “… the Texas Department of Public Safety Texas Rangers Division, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Child Care Licensing Division, Child Protection Division, and is supported by the Houston County District Attorney and Houston County Attorney.”

According to the press release, “Since July 21, the Crockett Police Department has received approximately 52 calls for service documenting reported alleged incidents at the facility. Some of the incidents or calls were minor in nature but a pattern of alleged serious abuse and neglect allegations began to surface in the reports. The reports that were made by the youth, staff, prior staff, teachers, parents, DFPS case workers, and others focused primarily on allegations of physical assaults on youth by staff at the facility and improper restraints of youth by staff at the facility, which led to numerous documented injuries to the youth.”

The press release continued, “One specific investigation included a student who was allegedly strangled by staff to the point where she began having multiple seizures, which are believed to have been triggered due to the lack of oxygen to her brain during the strangulation assault. There are currently other alleged assaults on students by staff that are being investigated by the team of investigators that had been organized and brought in to assist.”

Chief Cross was contacted on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016 and said, “We are presenting three cases to the grand jury in November. The charges concern staff abusing students. If other cases are discovered, we will present to later grand juries.”

Asked if this was a lone employee, the police chief said, “This involves more than one employee.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.