Cites Concerns for Personal Safety
By Will Johnson
CROCKETT – During a meeting of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation held on Monday, Sept. 22, Serenity Place owner Chris Brown was a no-show after he cited concerns for his safety.
Pastor Darrell Bennett, the Chairman of the Advisory Board for Serenity Place, made the announcement of Brown’s concerns during the public forum portion of the meeting.
“I was asked to come here tonight because Mr. Brown is unable to be here. They (Brown and his wife Wanda) felt that they would not be safe coming here tonight,” Bennett said.
He explained he had ministered at Serenity Place for the last year and felt the Browns were doing a good job.
“I believe it’s a great program. We have impacted a lot of lives. If you have ever had a chance to be around those kids, they would touch your heart. Those kids need the citizens of Crockett. They need our church and everyone here to support them. On behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, they just didn’t feel safe being here tonight,” Bennett re-emphasized.
The pastor was asked by Crockett City Councilman Darrell Jones who the Browns should be worried about.
Bennett replied, “They heard there were going to be some disgruntled employees, or ex-employees here. Like I said, they felt threatened.”
The safety concerns were possibly based on a text in which Brown announced the facility would be closing in the very near future.
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.”
Ironically, an October 2016 press release from the Crockett Police Department stated Serenity Place was under investigation on charges of abuse and/or neglect.
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.”
In essence, Brown was afraid of the very employees he had hired to take care of at-risk children placed under his care at Serenity Place.
As the meeting continued, CEIDC Board of Directors President Ansel Bradshaw addressed the performance agreement between the CEIDC and Serenity Place.
“Mr. Brown was supposed to be here at this meeting. As president of this board, I am extremely disappointed he chose not to attend. This is the third meeting in a row Mr. Brown has chosen not to attend,” Bradshaw said.
The board president said Brown had been asked to provide the CEIDC board with an annual review of the facility’s payroll.
“He did not do so. The report we received – sometime after that – was unacceptable. If you read the report, it showed either 132 or 133 employees at Serenity Place. All it had was a first initial, a last name and a date outside of that – assuming that was their hire date. We did not accept that and I know there are not 132 or 133 employees at Serenity Place,” he said.
Next, Bradshaw specifically asked CEIDC Executive Director James Gentry if the facility was still open.
Gentry replied it was his understanding there was to be a two or three week moratorium at the facility while an outside official reviewed the operational procedures of the organization.
“With that intent, there was a plan to re-certify the facility for future use. In terms of that, he (Brown) said he was trying to maintain as many employees at this site or at another site and to move the children to other sites,” he said.
Bradshaw asked again if the facility was closed and Gentry replied it was still open as far as he knew.
Bennett spoke up and said the facility only had 12 children occupying the grounds and “… by Wednesday, they are supposed to be gone.”
The CEIDC board president re-directed the conversation and added the agenda item being discussed concerned the performance agreement between the CEIDC and Serenity.
“I reiterate it is very disappointing the Browns are not here. Also, based on the information received this evening that when the last 12 kids leave the facility, that facility will become inoperable or not n operation. Then, they are in violation of their performance agreement that they signed with the CEIDC,” Bradshaw explained.
He further said Serenity had received $200,000 in incentives to locate a facility in Crockett but the agreement stipulated if the facility was not in operation after July 31, the organization would owe the CEIDC $60,000.
Bradshaw said Brown would like to meet with the CEIDC board in a non-public, non-disclosed location. Because the CEIDC receives tax dollars, it is considered a public entity and by law is required to post the meeting agenda, date and place of the meeting.
“Mr. Brown needs to understand he was afforded the opportunity to come here and do business in the city of Crockett. He was given $200,000 and he has chosen not to appear in front of this board, three consecutive times and that is not a good business practice,” Bradshaw said.
A motion was made, seconded and approved not to approve the performance agreement with Serenity Place.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.