The Texas prison system’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has been working overtime this year.
The OIG has launched another criminal probe after two Telford Unit workers admitted to falsifying official inmate records in an attempt to improve disciplinary statistics.
A criminal investigation was launched earlier this month by the OIG when investigators questioned the Telford workers about inconsistencies in inmate records.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson, Jeremy Desel said the department would cooperate. He stated that prison officials immediately disciplined the two employees.
Investigators found that as far back as January 2018, inconsistencies were spotted in prison records of inmates.
A few dozen inmates were marked down in official records as “transferred to a different unit”, but the inmates were in fact, still at the Telford Prison Unit in New Boston. All of the inmates with falsified records had pending disciplinary cases and in each incidence it was one of two people who had marked them as gone from the unit. The two people involved were counsel substitute Shelia Forte and Capt. Tony Rust.
As counsel substitute, it was Forte’s job to notify inmates of disciplinary hearings and help them to those hearings. Rust was the disciplinary hearing officer who would hear the cases.
Forte falsified prison documents to indicate the inmates had already transferred to another facility which prevented the inmate from attending their disciplinary hearing.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice documents, Forte and Rust said the falsified prison records were part of an effort to improve the unit’s disciplinary statistics.
A former Telford Captain stated that “Each region is different but they want to keep down the amount of days it takes from when you write the disciplinary case to the disciplinary hearing.” He said, “If that number is high it draws the attention of the people in Huntsville who want to know why we are not running our cases.”
By marking an inmate as gone or transferred, the case is put on hold until the inmate returns. This reduces the amount of time to close each case. Forte falsified the records of 18 cases while Rust falsified the records of 23 cases.
During the preliminary investigation, Forte stated that she falsified the records at the direction of Capt. Rust. She stated she told him it was not allowed but he insisted she do it.
During Capt. Rust’s interview, he admitted to giving Forte those instructions but said he had no idea it was not allowed.
After learning of the falsified records, 22 of the 41 cases were dismissed. The other 19 were caught in time to keep moving ahead with disciplinary action.
Forte was initially given two months probation while Rust received 12 months probation. They both kept their jobs and several months later Forte received a glowing annual employee review stating she did “extra work” and was a “team player”.
In September, Forte was caught up in a different internal investigation when an inmate reported that he was suddenly found guilty at a disciplinary hearing that he knew nothing about.
At that time, Forte lied in a preliminary interview about informing the inmate of the disciplinary hearing. She was immediately fired for falsifying official prison records.
Capt. Rust is no longer with TDCJ.
As soon as the results of the criminal case is complete, they will take the case to a grand jury.
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