The Texas Youth Commission terminated its contract Friday with a psychologist who testified repeatedly in death penalty cases that Hispanic and black men were more likely to be dangerous in the future. The termination followed a Texas Tribune inquiry into the agency's six-year agreement with the doctor.
Despite more than a decade of court controversy in six death penalty cases, including one that was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court last month because of the testimony Walter Quijano provided, the TYC began using the psychologist in 2005. The Tribune obtained the contracts under public information laws. The TYC most recently renewed its agreement with Quijano last month, just days before the high court stayed the execution of Duane Buck because of Quijano's testimony.
Upon receiving a public information request from the Tribune regarding the Quijano contracts, TYC officials said Wednesday that they had recently learned of Quijano’s testimony and that the agency was "reviewing its agreements for Dr. Quijano’s services.”
“I find it extremely alarming that someone with Mr. Quijano’s bias has had any control over their health care and well-being,” wrote Whitmire, who is chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
TYC Executive Director Cheryl Townsend responded with a letter today stating that she sent Quijano a 30-day notice of termination on Friday. "Dr. Quijano's extremely inflammatory statements in multiple adult offender death row cases ... reflect a prejudicial perspective that is totally unacceptable in the rehabilitative treatment of juvenile offenders," Townsend wrote.
Reached by phone, Quijano said though he was informed the TYC contract had been terminated, he was unaware that it was related to the court testimony or any concerns about racism. He said he received a form letter from the agency and that he had not provided services there since June. In all the time he worked there, he said, no one expressed dissatisfaction with his work.
"I worked there quite well I think," said Quijano, who noted that he is Asian-American. "I saw all kinds of races, and I have no prejudice against them."
But Whitmire said he was troubled that the agency ever hired Quijano, whose statements regarding race have made headlines for more than a decade.
"It raises questions of confidence in the management of TYC," Whitmire said in an interview. "Why would they use him in the first place? And why would they keep him on?"
Starting as early as 1991, Quijano provided testimony during the punishment phase in six death penalty cases. He told jurors about factors that could make a person more likely to be a danger to society in the future. Quijano explained that African American and Hispanic men were more likely to be violent again.
In 2000, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn admitted the state had erred in the 1996 trial of Victor Hugo Saldana, along with six other death penalty cases, in which Quijano testified regarding race and future dangerousness.
"Because the use of race in Saldano's sentencing seriously undermined the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial process, Texas confesses error," Cornyn wrote in a court filing.
Documents The Texas Tribune obtained under public information laws reveal that Quijano contracted with the state starting in 2005 to provide counseling services and treatment for youths at TYC. He worked at four state facilities.
In her letter to Whitmire, Townsend wrote that Quijano never participated in decisions about the duration of any youth's stay, about their program completion, their risks to re-offend or their transfer or discharge. "I have ordered staff to review every case in which Dr. Quijano provided services," she said.
Minority students account for more than one-third of the TYC population, and Quijano has worked at facilities that house some of the most violent and mentally ill youths in state custody, including the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center.
Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed, which advocates for youths in TYC custody, said she was disturbed to learn Quijano worked for the agency that is still undergoing reforms after physical and sexual abuse scandals were uncovered in 2007. The TYC, she said, has made major improvements since then, but still lags in providing quality mental health care.
"For us, this is just sort of the latest red flag in a list of concerns about the quality of mental health treatment," Fowler said.
Quijano said he was confused about the new concerns regarding his testimony. The doctor said his past testimony has been taken out of context and misconstrued. He said he has testified in about 150 death penalty cases. He explained that in the six controversial cases, he said people of African American and Hispanic backgrounds were more likely to be less educated, to have fewer work opportunities and to have grown up around negative influences in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
"It doesn’t mean the color makes the person violent," Quijano said.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Walter Quijano as a psychiatrist. He is a psychologist.