Area Newspaper and Travel Guide for Reeves County, Ward County, Trans-Pecos, Big Bend of West Texas
TOP STORIES 1995
BOP mulls taking prisoners from LEC
By MARI MALDONADO
PECOS, March, 1995 - The status of federal inmates at Reeves
County Law Enforcement Center is uncertain today, following
the firing of Warden Joe Trujillo by Sheriff Andy Gomez
Tommy Duncan, LEC Site Monitor for U.S. Bureau of Prisons,
said this morning that BOP authorities did in fact receive,
by fax, Trujillo's letter of termination and replacement
notice from Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo.
Duncan also said that Gomez was aware at the time of
Trujillo's termination, that at the March 17 Commissioner's
Court meeting the sheriff did concur with BOP's wishes that
he not interfere with the operation of the facility (LEC)
and the warden's actions, including personnel matters.
"I feel this is a complete reversal of what Sheriff Gomez
had indicated to us at the meeting," said Duncan.
Due to past political controversy, which jeopardized the
operation of the LEC, and each time promising not to
interfere with matters, "we have no assurance that the
sheriff will refrain from interfering with the operation of
the facility," Duncan said.
"My superiors are currently discussing options concerning
prisoner housing," said Duncan, "and at this point no
decision has been made."
"Right now the facility is operating with no direction or
leadership being provided," and BOP officials are concerned,
The BOP provides the majority of the 500-plus inmates being
housed at the facility. County officials hoped that number
would grow by nearly 100 later this spring, following the
completion of the LEC addition begun two years ago.
In 1988 similar occurrences were faced by the county when
Raul Florez, Reeves County Sheriff at that time, bumped
heads with BOP authorities about hiring Gary Ingram as LEC
Before being amended, the Reeves County/BOP contract in 1988
stated that anyone considered for the warden position should
have a bachelor's degree, which Ingram did not have said
Gomez' Attorney Scott Johnson, who was Reeves County
Attorney when the 1988 incident took place.
Johnson said that also in Ingram's situation BOP did have a
word in the matter because the contract clearly stated that
all warden hopefuls will be approved by the BOP.
In Trujillo's termination, Johnson said the BOP should not
have advised Gomez against it because, as a federal court
ruled in Garcia vs. Reeves County last year, the sheriff has
"unfettered discretion" in firing employees.
The case involved 15 former sheriff's department and LEC
employees who had filed a suit against Gomez, after he fired
them just after taking office on Jan 1, 1993. The
ex-employees filed that Gomez had violated due process and
their First Amendment rights.
The court ruled in favor of Gomez, saying the group were
employees of the sheriff's department and under his control.
Trujillo would return if Gomez stays away
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
Joe Trujillo kept a positive attitude and continued work on
future plans for the Reeves County Law Enforcement Center
Wednesday while expecting at any moment to be fired as
At 4:30 p.m., just after an interview with this reporter,
Trujillo received notice of his termination by Sheriff
Arnulfo Gomez. When chief deputy Fred Lujan delivered the
letter and placed J.J. Garcia in charge as interim warden,
Trujillo turned over his keys and bummed a ride home with
Asked if he would return to the LEC if the U.S. Bureau of
Prisons carried out their threat to remove inmates unless he
were re-instated, Trujillo said "No, not unless it is
removed from the sheriff's control."
Sheriff Gomez placed Trujillo in the warden position Oct. 1,
1993 and had given him pretty much a free hand as
Trujillo said that LEC operations have improved since he
took the helm, and numerous deficiencies written up by the
BOP have been corrected.
"There were several significant findings that needed to be
addressed, including segregation cells, sanitation, food
services and medicinal," he said. "Those are areas I
concentrated on , with the help of the commissioners who
approved changes I made to better the facility.
"We did nothing but good ever since then. With their
continued support, there is no telling how far we can go,"
BOP still has some areas of concern, including life/fire
safety, he said. That entails installing smoke barriers and
"The commissioners have addressed that and are looking into
taking care of that right away," he said.
Completion of segregated cells is three months behind
schedule, but they should be completed by May 20, he said.
In the meantime, inmates who need to be segregated are taken
to the Eden Detention Center by the Transportation
Department. They make one or two trips a week, he said.
Construction of an all-metal recreation building is also
behind schedule, with completion set for mid-April. It will
replace a wood-and-metal building burned down last year by
Trujillo said that sanitation has improved tremendously. "We
have established housekeeping policies and follow it
strictly, keeping everything clean," he said.
And medical services are improving, with registered nurse
Carolyn Batteas and a med tech who was a doctor in Mexico on
Ralph Hernandez Sr. is in charge of food service. His Army
service as a cook qualifies him for the position, Trujillo
One problem that Trujillo had been unable to solve was a
vacancy in the position of assistant warden. Adam Rodriguez
has been serving as interim assistant while Trujillo sought
a qualified candidate.
"We have continuously advertised in big newspapers in
Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso and four in
Spanish, trying to attract individuals," Trujillo said. "We
have had individuals apply; I conduct an oral interview and
if I feel he is what I am looking for, I submit it for BOP
approval. They haven't been approved because they don't have
enough experience on corrections or don't have the required
But Trujillo had invited a 20-year BOP employee to look
Pecos over and consider the position. Dale Brewer, 57, who
is retiring from FCI Bastrop, brought his wife and children,
and they were very pleased with Pecos, he said.
"He is very interested in getting this position," he said.
"I got along well with him and his wife. They are very good
people. All we talked was correction on the way back from
the airport. He was very enjoyable and easy to along with. I
could really work with him."
Brewer has experience in team management, a concept Trujillo
wanted to use at the LEC. "It is a type of supervision where
you have all the staff working together to try and address
problems of inmates in their wing," he said.
He said he has not submitted Brewer's resume to the BOP for
approval because he has to first work out some concerns that
Brewer has about staffing.
Trujillo said that he tried to make changes in the staff
recommended by the BOP after a recent investigation.
Those changes apparently triggered Gomez's actions in firing
Trujillo, a move he had already asked the BOP to approve.
Operations were not affected by dissension in the front
office, Trujillo said.
Two employees leaving at the end of their shift said morale
is low, but it has not affected their jobs. Both said they
have been with the LEC since it opened in May, 1986 and have
worked under numerous wardens.
"We don't feel our jobs are threatened by all this," said
David Flores, program manager. "We are not afraid the BOP
will pull out inmates. I have worked out here nine years,
and we have always gotten along with the BOP and feel
confident everything will work its way to the best."
Operations are running smoothly, he said.
Interim warden briefs department heads
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
J.J. Garcia sat uneasily in the warden's chair this morning,
the day after Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez fired warden Joe
But he began the day with a meeting of department heads.
"I told them of the situation at hand, the termination of
Trujillo, and said we need to just keep going and everybody
do their job," he said.
And he believes that they will, because what goes on in the
front office doesn't affect them.
"I will do the job and keep the facility going until we get
a warden," he said. "All I want is my job back as personnel
and training officer."
Garcia said that Trujillo had demoted him to shift
lieutenant without consulting him or reprimanding him for
his alleged infraction.
"He suspended me for five days for insubordination and
demoted me to shift lieutenant," Garcia said.
"Trujillo didn't sign the disciplinary writeup placed in his
file, Garcia said.
"I asked the warden who it was, and he told me it was
Trujillo. Nothing was brought to my attention," he said.
The prison is full to overflowing this morning, with 574
inmates. Some are sleeping on cots, he said.
County auditor Lynn Owens said that 574 inmates at $33.50
per day would generate revenue of $596,000 per month.
The average census for January was 507, he said.
Under the contract with BOP, they can designate as few or as
many inmates here as they choose.
"We have no guarantee of a number of prisoners, so I assume
they can pull them out," Owens said.
Either the county or BOP can cancel the contract with 90-day
notice, he said.
Crisis similar to 1988 problems
By JON FULBRIGHT
Controversy is nothing new at the 9-year-old Reeves County
Law Enforcement Center.
In fact, the history of the $6.2 million prison on the
southwest side of Pecos includes a similar situation seven
years ago that forced the county to hire an outside operator
to manage the facility.
Reeves County Commissioners approved construction of the
facility in 1984, at the urging of then-sheriff Raul Florez.
The prison was conceived with the idea of housing prisoners
from the U.S. Marshal's service, but Florez, who died this
past January, said construction delays resulted in the
Marshal's service sending inmates promised to the LEC to
That left the 528-bed facility short of inmates when it
opened in May, 1986.
"It should have took nine months (to complete), instead it
took two years," Florez said in a Febuary, 1987 interview
with the Associated Press about the situation, which
threatened to keep the county from making its payments
on-tome of the LEC construction bonds.
Reeves County later filed a breach of contract suit against
Modular Facilities, Inc. of Midland, the company it
contracted with in April, 1985 to build the LEC. The pact
was rescinded in March, 1986, and construction was completed
by a company formed by First Continental Finance Corp.,
which helped the county fund the prison's construction.
The LEC began operations under the authority of the Reeves
County Sheriff's Department, but with a civilian advisory
board also named to oversee financiers operations for First
The first major controversy over personnel came in January,
1987, when all three board members resigned over the firing
of the LEC's food service supervisor by Florez. The firing
was part of a dispute over control of hiring and firing at
the prison between the sheriff and Reeves County
At the same time the firing occurred, commissioners created
the position of LEC comptroller, who would also have
administrative functions, as requested by the advisory
board. The board sought to have Florez relinquish his
authority over day-to-day operations over the facility to
Then-county attorney Scott Johnson said the sheriff could
legally give someone else the authority to hire and fire, or
give up all responsibility in an agreement with a private
corporation to run the LEC.
Florez objected to those moves, and in a compromise later
that month, Gary Ingram was named the prison's first overall
administrator, while Eddie Markham was appointed LEC
operations assistant, reporting to commissioners.
The prison's population would nearly double in 1987, from
just over 300 inmates to an over-capacity 582 at one point.
However, in April of 1988 Florez and the U.S. Bureau of
Prisons would get into a dispute over staffing at the
The fight came after the county signed what was described as
a "first-of-its-kind" pact with the federal agency, which
boosted the payment rate from $30 to $31 per inmate. It
centered on the sheriff's opposition of BOP rules that would
have removed Ingram from his position as prison director.
Johnson said that not meeting these or other conditions of
the contract would constitute violations of the contract,
signed by the county on April 19, 1988, and which took
effect on May 1.
"The county will do everything in its power to comply with
the contract," Johnson said on April 28, 1988. "We don't
want to jeopardize $4 to $5 million a year gross income."
The following month, Markham--who had unsuccessfully run
against Florez for sheriff in the Democratic primary in
March--was ousted from his office at the LEC by sheriff's
At that time, the BOP pulled some of its long-term prisoners
from the facility, and Wally Blinde, the agency't area
administrator of community programs, said in June, 1988 the
situation at the LEC "is causing irrefutable harm to the
reputation of the BOP and Reeves County."
Florez said the dispute was over policy differences.
"The Bureau of Prisons wants to give the prisoners more
freedom than we do, and they wind up with prisoners escaping
or burning the place down," he said at the time.
A total of 14 prisoners escaped from the facility in the
first 26 months of operation. The incidents were blamed by
the BOP on poor security procedures at the facility.
The only major fire at the LEC occurred nine months ago, on
August 28, 1994, when inmates torched the recreation
building during a 7 1/2 hour protest. The building was
erected less than two years earlier at the urging of the
BOP, which also pushed for the construction of the isolation
cells at the prison that are currently near completion.
Fighting over control of personnel at the facility continued
into the summer of 1988, when commissioners reversed actions
against a group of LEC workers who had been suspended by
chief sheriff's deputy Jack Brewer.
Commissioners discussed possibly selling the LEC during this
period, before finally deciding on July 15, 1988, to hire
Corrections Corporation of America to run the facility.
Commissioners voted on Aug. 29, 1988, by a 3-1 margin to
approve a contract with CCA. Precinct 4 Commissioner
Bernardo Martinez - the lone remaining county official from
that time still in office - cast the only dissenting vote.
CCA took over the facility on Sept. 1, 1988. The deal paid
them $36,000 per month in management fees ($432,000
annually), and up to $279,000 per month in operating costs.
The funds were to come from the per diem payments by the BOP
and U.S. Marshal's Service to Reeves County, which stood,
respectively, at $31 and $33 per inmate at that time.
Ingram moved over to become director of the Reeves County
Transportation Department, which was formed to move inmates
to and from the LEC, and Monahans native Sandy Estes was
appointed warden at the facility. His salary was set at
That began a period of relative calm at the center, though
disputes continued over fees paid by the county to CCA under
the contract. In May of 1991, the county even discussed a
proposal for a second 600-bed prison across from the LEC and
an upgrade of the current facility to hold higher-risk
inmates at a combined cost of $23 million.
However, with contract fees reaching $500,000 by 1991, the
county told CCA it would not renew the current pact when it
expired on Aug. 31 of that year. Commissioners then hired
former Hays County Jail Administrator Rod Ellis as
transition officer at the LEC.
Ellis, who came from Lockhart, went to work at the prison in
mid-July, and took over as warden on September 1, 1991,
after Reeves County and CCA failed to reach a deal on a new
pact. CCA offered a $300,000 base management fee in their
final offer, while Reeves County offered $144,000 per year.
At the time, the county was about 1 1/2 months in arrears on
its payments to CCA, and outside auditor Dan Painter told
commissioners the facility would likely never be profitable
unless a better agreement could be reached. Johnson told
commissioners during the May, 1991 negotiating period that
the state statute allows the county to contract with a
private management firm with the consent of the sheriff,
"which consent can't be reasonably withheld," he said.
"The sheriff needs to be consulted and kept advised and for
him to advise you at all stages," he added.
On July 22, 1991, Johnson said the county would have better
control using a consultant, and that a management firm was
hired in 1988 because it was a crisis situation.
That statement came the day commissioners voted to hire GRW
Corp. as consultant to Reeves County, and to resume
operating the prison in a manner similar to when the
facility was first opened.
Salaries were reset with the departure of CCA, with the
warden's pay cut by $17,000 to $42,000. The GRW pact was for
two years, at a total cost of $202,000.
Estes spent 15 months as LEC warden, but was not kept on by
Sheriff Gomez, who took over the job on Jan. 1, 1993, after
defeating Florez in an April, 1992 primary election runoff.
During his time at the LEC, there were more problems with
the BOP. GRW president Gil Walker said the bureau conducted
an audit in January of 1992 and "tore us apart," with
findings of deficiencies.
"They were trying to get our attention. They wanted us to
build a recreation building and segregation cells. They know
how to apply pressure."
Walker's comments came during an April, 1993, discussion of
the immediate termination of their contract.
"We wanted to work with Reeves County and enjoyed every
minute. There were a lot of frustrating times," Walker said,
citing the period just after the takeover, when Estes, and
16 other administrative officials left the LEC to remain
"After the first 30 days we shook our heads and said 'My
God, what kind of mess have we gotten into here?'" Walker
said. But he added that the LEC had "real solid" employees,
including J.J. Garcia, who was appointed interim warden by
Gomez after Estes was not retained.
However, in a repeat of the May, 1988 situation between
Florez and the BOP over Ingram, Gomez was told the bureau
would not accept either Garcia or Jesse Baeza as warden
because they lacked the proper qualifications.
Baeza took over the job from Garcia after inmates at the
facility staged a brief riot in the yard on May 17, 1993,
over a list of 10 demands inmates wanted met. The riot's
leaders were transferred out of the prison a day later.
Gomez said at the time Baeza took over as interim warden
that he had been unable to attract any candidates for the
job at a salary of $44,000 annually. Garcia and Baeza were
paid $32,000 while in the interim warden's post.
But in mid-August, County Judge Mike Harrison received a
letter from the BOP claiming the county owed the agency
$750,000 for failure to comply with the Law Enforcement
Center contract. The BOP threatened to deduct $31,500 from
the county's billing if a qualified warden was not hired by
Gomez sought, but failed to receive, approval from the BOP
to place Ingram, now retired, back in charge of the LEC in
August, at the same time commissioners approved the current
LEC expansion, which will raise the prison's capacity to
over 620 inmates.
"The (applicants) I have sent forward are better qualified
than the previous warden (Ellis). He didn't have the
experience or the education," Gomez said on Aug. 23, 1993.
"They (the BOP) said 'We made a mistake once. We are not
going to make it again.'"
Finally, on Sept. 15, 1993, the BOP announced it would
approve the appointment of Joe Trujillo as LEC warden, since
he held the required B.S. degree in criminal justice the
agency had been demanding as a requisite for the position.
Salary for Trujillo was set at $45,000.
At the time of his appointment, Trujillo said he offered to
take the position, "If I would quality."
"I am very excited," he said. "It is a new challenge in my
career. I have been through the criminal justice system in
every phase I can think of. Prisons will be a new challenge."
Mac McKinnon, Publisher
Peggy McCracken, Webmaster
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
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