Child abuse

Refuge Ranch Update: ‘No evidence’ Refuge girls were abused or trafficked while at shelter, DPS says…

Image: KXAN

A letter from the Texas Department of Public Safety claims “there is no evidence” girls at The Refuge Ranch in Bastrop County were sexually abused or trafficked while at the shelter.

The letter was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott Wednesday and gave an update on ongoing investigations into the shelter, which is contracted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to house victims of sex trafficking — typically girls between the ages of 11 and 17.

Texas DPS on Wednesday said it reviewed that DFPS document and found “material inaccuracies,” and that it “contained information that had not been properly verified.”

DPS said Texas Rangers interviewed Refuge residents, employees and DFPS workers as part of its investigation and reviewed reports and internal DFPS files as well. Discussions also took place with the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated one of the reported incidents.

DPS focused on clarifying details surrounding two major incidents that reportedly occurred at The Refuge.

One of them, reported Jan. 24, involved a woman employed at the ranch who was accused of getting nude photos of two girls to sell in exchange for money and/or drugs. DPS said the shelter fired that worker and reported what happened to both the sheriff’s office and DFPS. No arrest has been made at this time, and BCSO continues to investigate that former employee.

The Refuge for DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking) last week addressed this particular report saying it learned in December an employee had allegedly coerced residents into making commercially sexual exploitation material. The organization confirmed last week it fired that one worker and reported the incident to both DFPS and BCSO.

The second incident took place Feb. 20, according to DPS, when two girls ran away from the ranch. There were claims ranch employees helped with the escape.

DPS said this incident was also reported to DFPS and BCSO, and four ranch employees were fired. Another criminal investigation by BCSO into these employees is being done, and DPS said one employee has been arrested so far on charges of making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Refuge leaders also addressed this incident last week, saying three staff members helped two residents, who were witnesses in a federal case, leave the ranch. The organization said one staffer lied to a federal officer, which is the one charge and arrest in the investigations so far.

“There were no allegations or evidence that these residents were sexually abused or assaulted by anyone,” DPS concluded its letter to Abbott.

Brooke Crowder, founder and CEO of The Refuge for DMST, said in a Wednesday statement they are “deeply relieved” by the Texas Rangers’ findings:

“We are grateful to state leaders for maintaining an intense focus on the issues related to interdicting sex trafficking and supporting us in our efforts to protect and rehabilitate the victims that enter our care. We are committed to continued close cooperation with DPS, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services and the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office as they pursue justice for the girls involved in the cited incidents.”

Crowder said last week they hope to reopen the ranch and have residents return for continued care after the investigations are finished.

After DFPS’ own investigation, the department said it removed all residents at the ranch on March 9 — more than a month after the initial report of alleged abuse.

Shortly after media outlets started reporting on the DFPS document, Abbott ordered the immediate investigation by the Texas Rangers into the ranch.

Written By: Jaclyn Ramkissoon for KXAN

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