Texas Whistle-Blower Sues Over Dismissal

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – A state investigator was fired after exposing shoddy and nonexistent investigations of Texas children who died under the supervision of Child Protective Services, he claims in court.
     Jose “Joe” Antonio Carrizal Jr. sued the Texas Health and Human Services Commission on Monday in Travis County Court, alleging violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act. The commission (HHSC) is the only defendant.
     According to the 25-page lawsuit, Carrizal began working HHSC in May 2010 as a special investigator IV. He was promoted twice that year, to Investigator VI for the Office of Inspector General Internal Affairs division.
     In or around June 2011 he was appointed to a specialized investigative task force charged with investigating how HHSC’s Child Protective Services division conducted investigations of abused and neglected children who died while under CPS supervision.
     Carrizal says he disagreed with the method of “cursory ‘checklist’ investigations.”
     He claims he was instructed not to interview potential CPS suspects, independent witnesses, law enforcement detectives, or the deceased children’s families. He says he was told to get evidence directly from CPS, though CPS is a sub-agency of HHSC, and not to use case numbers that could help track the investigations.
     Carrizal says he suggested how Internal Affairs could improve the investigations to ensure the safety of children that were “left in the custody and care of harmful households,” and requested independent child safety specialists for child death cases, but HHSC ignored his suggestions every time.
     When he learned that HHSC had failed to act on findings from a previous CPS investigation conducted by Internal Affairs, he suspected a cover-up.
     “It was clear that HHSC failed to act on the previous CPS investigation conducted by IA because CPS was a subagency of HHSC,” the complaint states. “For HHSC to take action against CPS would implicate its own incompetence. It also became apparent to plaintiff that HHSC was once again attempting to cover up the wrongdoing of CPS by requiring its investigators to conduct haphazard investigations into the deaths of children in order to conceal the incompetence and indifference of the agency in handling former investigations into the deaths of Texas children. Plaintiff was exposing a known political ‘hot potato’ that endangered the lives of countless Texas children and threatened the careers of numerous political appointees.”
     Carrizal says he became aware of 160 child death cases assigned to the Internal Affairs task force in which caseworkers were at fault.
     Most disturbing, he says, HHSC management told him that the task force was investigating child death cases only in Houston and Dallas. He says that left children elsewhere exposed to abuse.
     When Carrizal sought criminal charges against HHSC/CPS employees in one high profile investigation, he says HHSC Deputy Inspector General Adrian Glen Abrams yelled at him during a phone call and asked why he was filing criminal charges on CPS employees.
     Shortly after the phone call, Carrizal says, he received another call from an HHSC manager, who gave him a direct order to send the investigative report via unsecure email instead of delivering the report in person. In this case, Carrizal says, his findings led to criminal charges, indictments and arrests.
     “Plaintiff also discovered that multiple children on one of the arrested case worker’s caseload, the same caseload where a child had already died, were left exposed to continued acts of child abuse and neglect. In one instance approximately 29 cases were closed in thirty-eight days by one CPS caseworker departing for maternity leave (leaving countless children at risk). These concerns were brought to the attention of IA management but no actions to safeguard the children on the arrested caseworker’s caseload were taken. Plaintiff checked on the status of these children and found that three of the cases on the arrested caseworker’s caseload had to be reopened when other reports of continued child abuse and neglect were reported by independent citizens.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Carrizal says he wrote a 51-page brief describing his concerns and submitted it to Deputy Inspector General Abrams, though he realized that it was possible “career suicide.”
     “Almost immediately following plaintiff’s submission, he began to experience retaliation, which included being ridiculed for filing the brief, having his reports scrutinized and rejected by management for allegedly ‘not completing them appropriately,’ not receiving work credit for the child death investigations he had completed, initially being passed over for a merit raise, being passed over for a promotion and receiving an inaccurate evaluation, which he contested via email,” the complaint states.
     Carrizal says the retaliation intensified after a 2013 article by the Austin American Statesman, which said a previous child death investigation handled by the Office of Inspector General was not handled thoroughly.
     When Carrizal was promoted to police lieutenant in charge of the Vital Statistics Fraud Unit, he says, Abrams questioned the promotion and HHSC Inspector General Douglas Wilson said: “Are you sure we can trust this guy?” at the swearing in ceremony.
     Carrizal claims he audited the Vital Statistics Fraud Unit and discovered that 70,000 vital statistic birth records had not been processed for fraud prevention since 2008, and that Abrams said he was “unaware of these records.”
     But members of the unit contradicted this, saying Abrams was aware of the unprocessed records and had hired temporary employees to process the records, Carrizal says in the complaint.
     He claims he found another instance of vital record fraud and told HHSC manager Scott Hudson about it. Hudson resigned the day after Abrams told him and Carrizal that he was “going to have their asses” if they failed to correct the records problem.
     Abrams then reorganized Internal Affairs and transferred Carrizal from the Vital Statistics Fraud Unit back to IA, Carrizal says. When he asked why the vital record investigation was taken from him and given to people with no working knowledge of the case, Abrams said that “he did not need to explain himself to anyone because he was the Deputy Inspector General of Internal Affairs,” according to the complaint.
     Abrams then made an unexpected appearance at a case transfer meeting involving Carrizal and sat very close to him, which Carrizal claims was done to intimidate him.
     Carrizal says he filed a complaint for retaliation with HHSC’s Civil Rights Office, whose director Jenny Hall said he could not file such a complaint because he had not previously filed an administrative complaint – but that this was incorrect.
     “Plaintiff had initially filed an administrative complaint in February of 2013. Doug Wilson acknowledged receiving the February 2013 complaint filed by plaintiff in his July 8, 2014 response to plaintiff. This attempt by HHSC’s Civil Rights office to dissuade plaintiff from filing his complaint against HHSC is instructive on the agency’s complicit conduct and, at the very least, its competence and objectivity.”
     Carrizal claims he was “never advised of any alleged misconduct” before he took sick leave from June 3 to June 10 this year. He then took vacation and returned to work on June 23. Upon his return, he says, OIG management told him he was being suspended, and gave him a Notice of Possible Disciplinary Action.
     Carrizal says he then filed a complaint of retaliation from Internal Affairs with the Civil Rights department, but he was never contacted by department personnel.
     He claims that Doug Wilson’s July 8 response to the complaint did not address the allegations of continued harassment and incorrectly claimed that the issues mentioned in the brief were addressed by OIG management.
     On July 16, HHSC/OIG manager Bob Esparza fired him on the pretext he had been “insubordinate” to a superior, Carrizal says.
     “Plaintiff did not have a history of insubordination, nor was he ever fired from any position prior to this HHSC termination,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff is a highly decorated commissioned peace officer who has served the community for over 20 years. Plaintiff is an honorable man with a work history that includes performance ratings of ‘Exceeds Standards’ for 13 years in a row, as well as ‘Distinguished’ and ‘Commendable’ ratings throughout his career. Plaintiff has never received an unfavorable performance rating.”
     “Plaintiff has since applied with multiple federal, state and local agencies and has been rejected due to his termination from HHSC and subsequent statements made by HHSC in an intentional effort to discredit plaintiff.”
     He says the Texas Workforce Commission awarded him unemployment insurance benefits after ruling that HHSC had no cause to terminate him.
     Carrizal seeks reinstatement, lost wages and damages for loss of professional opportunities, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and damage to his reputation.
     He is represented by Dominic Audino in Austin.

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