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In re J.A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 4, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF J.A.

          From the County Court, Karnes County, Texas Trial Court No. 16-05-00005 JVK Honorable Stella Saxon, Judge Presiding

          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Irene Rios, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Beth Watkins, Justice.

         J.A. appeals the juvenile court's Second Order Modifying Disposition committing him to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for an indeterminate unspecified term not to exceed his 19th birthday. The sole issue presented on appeal is whether the juvenile court violated J.A.'s due process rights by ordering him to TJJD without an updated psychological evaluation. J.A. contends that by failing to order the updated psychological evaluation, the trial court refused to consider the full range of punishment or determine his welfare and best interest. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         On May 26, 2016, the State filed a petition in the underlying cause alleging J.A., who was twelve, engaged in delinquent conduct by committing the offenses of aggravated robbery and injury to the elderly with bodily injury on May 18, 2016. J.A. filed a stipulation of evidence, admitting to having committed the offenses. The juvenile court adjudicated J.A. delinquent and, on August 8, 2016, placed J.A. on probation for two years in the custody of his mother.

         On January 13, 2017, the State filed its first petition to modify disposition alleging J.A. was charged with the offense of assault on October 6, 2016, and failed to attend school on numerous dates in September, October, November, and December of 2016. On February 10, 2017, the trial court signed an order modifying J.A.'s disposition and placing him at the Hector Garza Center, a placement facility.

         J.A. was unsuccessfully discharged from the Hector Garza Center in December of 2017.[1]On January 5, 2018, the juvenile court signed an order releasing J.A. from detention to the custody of his uncle. The order placed J.A. on full house arrest and required him to attend boot camp. The order prohibited J.A. from leaving his uncle's residence except to attend school or meet with his juvenile probation officer or unless he was under his uncle's direct supervision.

         On April 10, 2018, the State filed its second petition to modify disposition alleging J.A. failed to abide by the rules of the Hector Garza Center resulting in his unsuccessful discharge from the facility and failed to attend school on January 18, 2018, and several dates in February and March of 2018. On April 23, 2018, the juvenile court held a hearing at which J.A. pled true to the allegations. The juvenile court found the allegations to be true and reset the remainder of the modification and disposition hearing. On July 6, 2018, the juvenile court continued the hearing.

         At the July 6, 2018 hearing, Melissa Padron, J.A.'s juvenile probation officer, testified J.A. was placed with his uncle after he was discharged from the Hector Garza Center but was returned to detention on May 30, 2018 for persistent misbehavior. Padron stated the decision to release J.A. from detention and place him with this uncle followed a long hearing at which J.A. was told this was his last shot. Padron testified regarding the services probation had offered to J.A. to date which included: (1) referral to boot camp four times; (2) receipt of positive action curriculum four times; (3) referral to ropes program four times; (4) referral to family preservation program eight times; (5) referral to WhyTry program which teaches social and emotional principles to help at-risk kids one time; (6) attendance at Too Good for Drugs curriculum twice; (7) placement at the Hector Garza Center, a nonsecure residential placement facility, for ten months; and (8) MHMR and special education services. Padron also testified J.A.'s prior referrals included: (1) burglary of a habitation when J.A. was ten; (2) burglary of a building and expulsion from alternative school; (3) running away; (4) aggravated robbery and injury to the elderly; and (5) assault and failure to attend school. Copies of the December 14, 2017 discharge letter and the December 27, 2017 discharge summary from the Hector Garza Center were admitted into evidence.

         The discharge letter noted J.A. refused to follow directives of staff and take his prescribed medication, engaged in multiple incidents of physical aggression and assaultive behavior towards his peers, and refused to accept how his behaviors will negatively impact his future. The discharge summary noted J.A.'s "continuous problematic behaviors (aggression, assaultive behavior on peer/staff, non-compliance, chronic deviance, gang related behaviors, refusing medical and clinical treatment, engaging in theft) resulted in this unsuccessful discharge." Padron testified the reasons the facility discharged J.A. included minimal effort toward meaningful participation in treatment. Padron stated J.A.'s participation in treatment and avoidance of physical aggression and assaultive behavior would be required regardless of where he was placed in the juvenile system. Padron also stated J.A. was continuing to refuse to take his medication for ADHD while in detention. Padron testified the juvenile probation department was recommending placement at TJJD, noting the department had tried supervision at home, numerous programs, and placement outside the home; however, J.A. continued to engage in the same behaviors. Padron noted J.A. not only assaulted his peers but also assaulted staff members at the Hector Garza Center requiring him to frequently be restrained with physical holds. Padron further stated J.A. was repeatedly counseled that he was a candidate for TJJD when he was released to his uncle's custody in January of 2018; however, he continued to make poor choices requiring his return to detention. Padron emphasized if J.A. had followed the rules after his release to his uncle's custody in January "we wouldn't be here today."

         When questioned about possible placement at a secure facility as opposed to a nonsecure facility like the Hector Garza Center, Padron testified a secure facility would offer the same types of programs and treatment the Hector Garza Center offered. Padron noted J.A. would still be required to change the behaviors that led to his discharge from the nonsecure facility. With regard to the difference between a secure facility and TJJD, Padron noted TJJD provides a more in-depth assessment and has more options in terms of the type of placement that would address J.A.'s needs. Padron explained the facilities have to be willing to accept the juvenile if the juvenile probation department makes a referral whereas a facility has to accept a referral from TJJD and find programs to help the juvenile. Padron further noted TJJD has after-care services and halfway housing that assist juveniles in transitioning when released.

         Padron testified she had reached out to three secure facilities. One did not respond. The second responded J.A. was too aggressive for their program. The third tentatively accepted him conditioned on the provision of an updated psychological evaluation. Pardon testified J.A. would be required to follow the same placement rules he failed to follow at the Hector Garza Center.

         On cross-examination, Padron testified residents progress through four levels at the Hector Garza Center, and J.A. progressed to the third of the four levels but started regressing around the time he was informed his mother was incarcerated. Padron agreed the instability of where J.A. would be placed upon release could have affected him. Padron further testified J.A did not exhibit the assaultive behavior at the ...


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