La Grange man gets 30 years in prison for assaulting public servant

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

June 20, 2014 at 1:20 a.m.

A 17-year-old who has been in and out of county jails and most recently at the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center is headed to prison.

Derrick Jamal McKenzie, of La Grange, pleaded guilty Friday morning to aggravated assault of a public servant.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

McKenzie admitted in court to assaulting a Mid-Coast Family Services worker who was teaching drug awareness and anger management at the facility, 97 Foster Field Drive.

"She is still dealing with residual pain. It didn't just end because the trial ended, but at least this part of it is done," said Ginny Stafford, Mid-Coast Family Services' executive director.

The attack happened Sept. 11.

McKenzie was in the gymnasium with a juvenile supervision officer but was able to get away, darting into the woman's office and locking the door.

McKenzie then smashed her face into a keyboard, hit her with a clock and pinned her head to the concrete and stomped on it, Victoria Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler said.

"It was about as long as a round of boxing," Tyler said. "She balled up and protected herself the best she could. ... She's tough."

McKenzie targeted the Mid-Coast Family Services worker because he thought she would be a bad witness in his murder or competency cases, Tyler said.

As part of the plea deal, McKenzie and his attorney, Keith Weiser, had to admit to his competency.

Doing so makes it "next to impossible" to prove to a jury in Fayette County he is incompetent.

McKenzie is charged with committing murder there as a juvenile, Tyler said.

A Victoria County jury also found him to be competent after a two-day trial in February.

Weiser could not be reached for comment Friday.

Terri Lynn Dornburg, who began representing McKenzie recently, referred questions to Weiser.

Tyler said after reviewing video of the attack at the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center that there was a lapse in security for such a high-security inmate.

"A guard went to get a basketball, but before, you can see him nodding off in a chair," Tyler said.

Chief Probation Officer Pama Hencerling, however, said her department also reviewed the video and did not see the guard dozing or sleeping.

Sleeping or dozing on the job is grounds for immediate termination.

"He (the juvenile supervision officer) may have been sitting in a chair at one point in time, but Mr. McKenzie was in a locked gymnasium. He was doing his exercise that is required by state standards for him to do," Hencerling said. "It is true that he went to retrieve a basketball, and when he did, that is when Mr. McKenzie darted into the unlocked office where the counselor was.

"Normally, the counselors' offices remain locked within the gymnasium. On that particular day, that particular office was unlocked. ... Because he was such a high-security juvenile, that's why it was just him and the correction officer in the gym with no other kids with them," Hencerling added.

The Mid-Coast Family Services worker's office door was closed when McKenzie got there.

The juvenile supervision officer with McKenzie that day was placed on a three-day suspension and retrained, along with all the employees on safety and security issues, Hencerling said.

From Nov. 11 to 14, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department monitored the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center.

The center received a score of 96.07 percent on pre-adjudication, or detaining youth before their cases are resolved.

The center earned a 98.64 percent on post-adjudication, or detaining youth long term, Hencerling said.

"We do feel like we are a safe facility, and it's unfortunate that something like this did have to happen. It was human error," she said.

Mid-Coast Family Services ended its contract at the center Jan. 1.

The victim and one other licensed professional counselor would go to the facility.

"Without going into too much detail, it just didn't seem like the best use of our resources," Stafford said. "I'm happy this is behind us, and hopefully, he will get the help he needs while incarcerated."



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