Former Burnett-Bayland head Linda Crocker promoted Deen but soon saw troubling signs.
Former Burnett-Bayland head Linda Crocker promoted Deen but soon saw troubling signs.
Troy Fields

The Odd Couple

Houston police responded on a late April evening to a 911 call from a town-house complex just off Chimney Rock in southwest Houston. A woman had reported that the guy she lived with had threatened to kill her if she didn't hand over her gun and car keys.

Officers edged through the darkness past a security gate surrounding the group of red brick buildings and headed for the source of the emergency request for help. They peered through the uncurtained window of the condo and confirmed that there was trouble. The couple inside was shouting and grappling. Police separated the pair and began interrogating them.

That's when it became apparent that this was no ordinary domestic dispute.

The woman involved was Dee Anne Deen, a petite five-foot-tall brunette with blue eyes. She also had 16 years of experience with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. Deen had worked her way up from probation officer to supervisor -- it was her service revolver that part of the fight had been about.

Deen was 39 years old. But her male companion turned out to be a minor -- a 16-year-old handsome but troubled teen. In fact, Deen first met him while overseeing his juvenile probation worker. She'd eventually showered him with gifts and attention and privileges. And when he left a probation department-sponsored stay at a counseling center months earlier, Deen had him move into her town house.

According to a police spokesman, Deen told officers that night that she had just taken the boy in as a favor to his mother and was trying to help him complete a GED in preparation for college.

However, the teenager says he was frank in his answers to police: "I told them she was my probation officer at one point in time and we fucked, and she got mad and wanted to fight. And that's exactly what I told 'em."

Certainly, juvenile probation authorities would want to know about accusations of such a sordid relationship involving one of their own supervisors. After all, news reports in recent months had alleged abuses of minors by probation department workers. There were even isolated cases of female teachers being criminally charged for consensual sex with boys in their schools.

Juvenile probation officials, though, already knew of Deen's strange relationship. For months, concerned co-workers had reported the unusual situation between Deen and the teen, who was less than half her age.

A former supervisor says she filed warning memos after noting the pair spent long hours together at night in Deen's office at the county's Burnett-Bayland home for juveniles. Three months before the April incident, the youth's father had warned agency officials that his son was involved in an apparent sexual relationship with Deen and had access to her service revolver and car -- he'd drawn the gun on his own father.

Despite all those red flags, there is no indication Harris County probation authorities took any effective steps to investigate the allegations. Even after she quit her job, law enforcement turned a blind eye while the relationship continued. By all indications, criminal justice system officials are similarly shunning serious attention to the matter.

Linda Crocker, the former Burnett-Bayland superintendent who first issued the warning memos about Deen's conduct, raises several questions about the actions of juvenile probation officials.

"Why would you ask someone to resign once she did violate policy by having a child living with her that was on probation or recently off probation? She was obviously treated differently," Crocker says. "She was allowed to resign and the boy was not placed in detention."

To Crocker, there's only one logical explanation for the almost comedic chain of events: "It's called cover-up."

Ephraim McDuffie, the operator of a juvenile treatment facility, was amazed at the way the agency hushed up the scandal. "If it had been anyone else, it would be plastered all over the news media and everywhere else," he says.

The boy himself laughs at the memory of that evening and Deen's denials. "She can't admit nothing because she thinks she's an angel."

When Dee Anne Deen and Terry Williams (his real name is not being used, because he is a juvenile) encountered each other at Burnett-Bayland in the fall of 2000, both were pretty much on their own -- she by choice, he by circumstance.

Deen, whose extended family lives in Anahuac east of Houston, attended Lee College in Baytown and earned a degree from Sam Houston State in 1985. She joined Harris County Juvenile Probation the summer after graduation and never worked anywhere else.

She started as a detention center employee and advanced to a court caseworker position, helping determine placement for juveniles. Co-workers describe her as a pleasant, caring woman who was drawn to children who were without family support systems. No one recalls her having steady boyfriends in recent years -- her job seemed to be her social life.

When Bayland director Linda Crocker had an opening at the facility in 1998, she says, she promoted Deen from worker to supervisor of a unit of caseworkers because she cared about the children and had good writing skills. "Of the people I had, she was my probably best choice at the time," she says.

However, Crocker began noting problems with Deen. "I saw her isolating a few kids that she would talk to and spend a lot of time" with, remembers Crocker. "I used to constantly try to tell her that she needed to deal more with supervision of the staff, because that was her job."

One youth seemed to get most of Deen's attention. Terry Williams was bright and physically mature, a muscular 15-year-old with a polite demeanor and a penchant for attracting adult sympathy. His father was a disabled dump-truck driver, and his mother had just been released from Gatesville on parole after a ten-year sentence for forgery.

Terry was sent to Burnett-Bayland because he was missing classes and his father was not providing for his care. Two of his four siblings were scattered around the country with other relatives.

Deen was never Terry's caseworker, but she began to take a special interest in him. Crocker, who is now retired from the agency, began hearing of problems.

"There were two kids in particular," remembers Crocker. "There was one that she talked to a lot and he confided in her. Then rumors started when [Terry] came in. He and the other boy used to get in arguments about her."

The conflict escalated into a brawl that stopped only when workers separated the two boys. In the fray, Terry tripped a guard, who fell backward and broke an ankle. When officers cuffed him and put him in the back of a car, Terry kicked the windows out. He was charged with delinquent behavior in Judge Mary Craft's juvenile court.

Jo Nelson, a veteran Houston juvenile law attorney, was his appointed lawyer. "Terry was a really nice kid, and everybody felt sorry for him because of his background, and his parents weren't really supportive or there for him," Nelson says. "They wanted me to find a really good placement for him."

Nelson says Deen and some other workers had taken an unusually keen interest in him. "In 27 years of practice, I've never had that many people involved with one child, being overprotective of him," recalls Nelson. "I called Linda Crocker, and she was not sympathetic. She thought the juvenile was getting preferential treatment and was somewhat annoyed."

Crocker noted that Terry was not supposed to have free access to administrative areas of the campus outside his dormitory but was repeatedly visiting Deen's office in the evenings. In fact, she says, she once walked in to find the supervisor giving the boy a pedicure.

"I was concerned that she shouldn't have that kind of relationship with him and she should focus more on her staff," Crocker says. "…I told her that the staff was starting to talk, and kids were talking in the cottages about how he didn't have to do anything, and he had it made."

Deen declined to return several calls from the Houston Press to her home. Terry says that in the early days, their contacts were innocent. "All I did was just talk to her," he says. "You know how sensitive women are, and I was just giving her the conversation."

But some of Terry's fellow detainees got other ideas.

"She and I had started staying in her office late at night," Terry recalls. "I'd get back to the cottage and everybody's going, 'You fucking with Deen?' And I was going, 'Naw, naw.' Sometime I be like, 'Yeah, there go my girl.' But you know, we wasn't. At that time she was just a mentor to me."

Crocker says she wrote several memos to her supervisors concerning Deen's strange relationship with Terry. However, the Press inspected Deen's personnel file under an open records request and found no memos on the subject. Agency director Elmer Bailey denies he received any early warnings.

Alarmed by Terry's violent behavior with other juveniles, Crocker says, she had him transferred to an agency evaluation center. He later moved to McDuffie's, a juvenile treatment facility in the Heights. During the same period in 2000, Deen transferred from Burnett-Bayland to become supervisor of a community probation office.

But she would never lose touch with Terry.

Ephraim McDuffie has handled scores of juvenile probation referrals as the head of McDuffie's, but he remembers one young client in particular -- Terry -- and the older woman who frequently saw him at the Heights center.

"We were shocked about Deen coming and visiting him a lot, demanding to see him and buying him expensive clothes," McDuffie says. "We were very concerned about that. We couldn't deny her because she was juvenile probation."

McDuffie says he contacted one of Deen's supervisors but got no help. "She'd say, 'I don't know what the whole situation is, but I understand she's been in his life for a while.' "

Worse yet, Terry began openly calling Deen his girlfriend, McDuffie says. In November 2001, just after Terry turned 16, he was discharged from McDuffie's facility. When Terry came back for visits, however, McDuffie recalls that the teenager would drive up in a car -- Deen's car.

"It just got crazy," McDuffie says.

Terry tells of initially returning to his home after his discharge, then deciding to take Deen up on her offer to move in with her.

"…I wasn't really thinking like, yeah, I'm going to move in with this lady," Terry says. "But you know, when I got home and saw how it was going to be, I was like, well, I might as well give my mama a lift off her shoulders."

McDuffie was alarmed by the implications of a probation supervisor living with a juvenile who was being handled by the agency. "He's still considered a child, and for her to have some kind of relationship with him is appalling. She had been there a pretty good while, and everybody has a tendency to cover up everything."

Terry's mother says she initially accepted Deen's assurances that her role with the boy was professional and legitimate. After a while, males in her family weren't so sure.

"For a long time I took it as her being a mentor to him," recalls Williams. "…As far as me seeing anything, no, I have never seen them in a girlfriend-boyfriend way. But my oldest son and my future husband talked to him, and there were times when I would ask them, 'What do you really think is going on?' "

She recalls that Terry once told her he was "confused" by the relationship, but that Deen was giving him gifts and a style of living that his relatives could not.

"Maybe I want to block it out of my mind," says his mother. "I don't want to picture Ms. Deen as a bad person. And the only way I would truly accept it is she would have to come out and admit to me, 'Yes, I was having a relationship with your son.' "

According to the youth, the sex came soon after he began living with the woman.

"One night we were messing around, and we were drinking over there, and I fucked her," he says matter-of-factly. "And it was just funny to me, but I was still okay, she was still nice to me. She was saying everything's still the same, I don't have to be with her if I don't want to, but she just wanted to be there for me and all this."

However, as domestic partners, their relationship would soon turn volatile.

Rumors had been rampant within the juvenile probation ranks about an affair between the supervisor and the youth. Reports of something seriously wrong came last January 14, when agency worker Laura Powell fielded a phone call from Terry's father. His son, he told her, had shown up at a family gathering the previous weekend driving Deen's car -- even though he didn't have a license.

And, the father stated bluntly, Terry and Deen were having sexual relations.

The following day, the father called again with more direct and damning information: Terry had taken Deen's service revolver to the family gathering and pulled the gun, pointing it at his father and threatening him.

According to a memo compiled by Powell, the father stated he "wanted help for his son because someone will kill him if he continues with this madness."

Terry says the trouble stemmed from Deen's rage when she found out he was seeing girls on the side.

"She caught me one day messing and she get mad and she just blow up. First she just start crying and I try to go to her and she blows up, like don't touch her," Terry says. "She's hitting on me and shit, and then one day I just hit her back. And ever since then, she just really want to fight."

The age difference escalated the problems.

"I told her I'm still young, and I'm going to still go out and play," says Terry. "I didn't say I was going to be messing with other girls or whatever, or like that, because I respect her. But still you can't be wanting me to just stay in the house every day, every day."

Terry also admitted to the Press that Deen hadn't known he took her gun.

"She didn't give me permission to go get the gun and get in the car and go over there and pull it on my daddy. That was on me," he says. "But I really wasn't pulling it on my daddy." Terry insists that his father was roughhousing with him and put him in a headlock. "And it was like instinct, and I just pulled it out 'cause I had it on me."

Juvenile probation officer Powell heard the father's complaints and notified administrators Debbie Williams and Bernard Hunter. But there is no indication in Deen's personnel file that any action was taken then to investigate the information.

About three months later, another emergency call came in -- this time it was Deen, telling police that Terry was threatening to kill her unless she gave him her revolver and car keys.

Houston police officers Matthew Hong and Armando Alaniz arrived at Deen's Burdine Street town house and saw the couple fighting. They declined to be interviewed by the Press, but HPD spokesman John Cannon says Deen portrayed herself as a do-gooder who had taken in the boy as a favor to his mother. She claimed he burned her with a cigarette during the altercation, although the officers found no serious injuries.

Deen drove herself to a private doctor for treatment. After the juvenile admitted trying to get Deen's revolver, the officers drove him to the Mykawa Road substation and filed charges of terroristic threat and assault against him.

According to Cannon, the officers did not explore the issue of any sexual relationship between her and the boy because Deen didn't bring it up. He says officers called juvenile probation workers and said, "Look, one of your employees filed this complaint and we've got the 16-year-old down here with us. Do you want to check him in your system? Because he comes up clear on our end."

Cannon claims the juvenile probation department authorized his release. Agency director Elmer Bailey denies that and blames HPD for letting him go.

Terry's mother picked him up at the jail after midnight. Her son then called Deen from a pay phone and told his mother to take him back to Burdine -- to the same town house where he'd been arrested only hours earlier.

The youth says he wanted to sort out what had happened, and that he was afraid of going back to jail. The supposedly terrorized probation supervisor had other ideas, he says.

"When I went back over there," Terry recalls, "she said, 'Just go get in the bed. I don't want to talk.' "

However, the incident forced the agency into a showdown with the supervisory employee. Deen was forced to resign last May.

"Working for probation has taught me many things, some good and some bad," Deen wrote in a two-paragraph letter to agency official Julia Ramirez. "But I will still remain a champion for those that are in need and I hope that I will always possess the fire to be 'a rebel with a cause.' "

The resignation ended her relationship with juvenile probation -- but not with Terry Williams.

The same odd coupling that had been recognized regularly by treatment center operator Ephraim McDuffie and juvenile probation workers drew attention again last summer, more than 1,000 miles from Houston.

Police in tiny Blanding, Utah, pulled over a car driven by a youth from Texas. It was Terry Williams, and he had no driver's license. Officers took him in, and soon the young man was on the telephone with an older woman he described as his godmother -- Dee Anne Deen.

After her resignation from juvenile probation, Deen was looking for work. She had recently announced to Terry, whose uncle was a truck driver, that she was interested in learning to drive rigs cross-country. So she told him to pack up, that they would drive to Salt Lake City, where she had enrolled in the CR England truck driving school.

When Deen arrived at the Blanding police station to retrieve the teen, officers called the boy's mother before releasing him. Blanding Sergeant Danny Flannery laughs at the question of whether officers there found anything odd about the situation.

"Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah," he says. "But once we talked to Mom and she acted like everything was hunky-dory, we couldn't go on our assumptions and we turned him over to who she told us to."

Terry's mother says she had been concerned because her son had simply disappeared from Houston. She insists she gave permission for Deen to take the boy only because she had no way to go to Utah and pick him up herself.

Deen and her companion returned from Utah, with the woman apparently discarding her ideas of truck driving. They settled back into the town house on Burdine Street, with Terry continuing to come and go at will.

As recently as late October, Deen was still buying Terry expensive presents, including a computer with which to surf the Internet at their home. Despite all that had gone before, Deen seemed determined to continue the relationship that had destroyed her career.

In addition to the allegations of sexual relations with a minor, she'd driven the juvenile across state lines to Utah while Terry was in effect a fugitive on the assault and terroristic threat charges.

And yet there was never any real investigation by juvenile probation or any of the agencies responsible for enforcing any of the applicable laws.

By all indications, the juvenile probation department believed the situation would go away when it sent Deen away.

In a referral to Harris County Children's Protective Services last May, juvenile probation deputy director Harvey Hetzel stated that Deen separated from the department after officials learned she had improperly allowed the boy to live with her.

"What is clear is that Ms. Deen took an intense, personal interest in this child," wrote Hetzel. He noted that Deen had explained she was unable to find an alternate placement for him and the child's mother knew about it and agreed.

"Although we have no knowledge or suspect any sexual contact with this youth, it remains a possibility, and one we have not investigated further." The letter made it clear the request was pro forma, designed to protect the agency's reputation.

"We are making a referral based upon a possibility rather than suspicion. Further, a review independent of our agency would negate any future assertions of favorable treatment, cover-up, etc." There is no sign of any further action by juvenile probation or Children's Protective Services in Deen's personnel file.

Juvenile probation director Bailey is defensive about accusations of a whitewash. He refers to the call from the stepfather (it was actually the father who phoned the agency) about the gun incident and says the man "never called the police, there never was an offense report." He says it "got literally to the point of where we couldn't even get the stepfather back on the phone."

Deen's mere denial of a sexual relationship was apparently enough to satisfy the agency. "Her immediate supervisor asked her about the rumors and she categorically denied anything was going on," Bailey says. "A lady who is an administrator in our personnel section actually went line by line and interviewed her about those allegations, and she simply said they were not true, that they were vicious rumors."

Finally, after Terry's arrest on the assault charge in April, the agency took some notice when he referred to Deen as his girlfriend.

"Whoa, that's just, like, way too much smoke for there not to be some fire," Bailey recalls. "But up to that point, with the police never filing charges, we referred this matter to the [state juvenile] probation commission, we referred this matter to CPS; everybody came back saying there's enough smoke that she needs to leave the profession. But there's not enough here for there to be any charges filed or anything like that."

Assistant District Attorney Wallace "Skeeter" Warner, the chief prosecutor in Craft's court, says the possibility of sexual misconduct by Deen was looked at, but no action was taken.

"We don't have anything other than, as they say in my Marine Corps background, third shedder scoop," says the prosecutor. "Just rumors that there may be an issue. I do know that she was investigated by our public integrity unit and charges were not filed."

Authorities insist that the biggest problem was their inability to locate Terry.

"My staff has talked to the mother and my staff has verified that we don't know where the kid is," says Bailey. "And everybody's kind of waiting to see if he shows up, and most often what happens is he will get arrested because he has no place to stay."

Terry's mother has appeared for each of her son's case settings in Judge Craft's court since last April. She says investigators kept asking her where Terry could be found. "I say, 'Why don't you try checking back at the address where you arrested him?' "

If no one else listened to her, the Houston Press took her up on the suggestion last month and drove out to the Deen condo on Burdine. Parked in the rear of the gated unit was the red motorcycle she had bought Terry, as well as a vehicle registered to an address in her hometown of Anahuac.

A neighbor of several months who asked not to be identified knew both Deen and Terry by sight and said they had been living at the residence as long as he had been there. He had seen them walking a dog together earlier that week.

Perhaps it was merely an oversight by authorities. But when it comes to some other aspects of this politically sensitive case, juvenile probation officials and even the district attorney's office have displayed rapid-response investigatory skills.

The Sunday-afternoon barbecue at Linda Crocker's home was crowded with current and former juvenile probation officers who had known Crocker during her 25-year career with the agency.

She was hosting a mid-October fund-raiser for former agency director Teresa Ramirez, a candidate for the juvenile court bench held by incumbent Pat Shelton. Once guests settled in, conversations quickly turned to an agency hot topic: the continuing torrent of rumors over the handling of Dee Anne Deen's resignation and her relationship with Terry Williams.

Ramirez says the workers questioned why Deen was allowed to merely resign over such conduct, while another worker had been fired simply because a juvenile in her charge had received a letter from her that was deemed unprofessional. "And of course they questioned how [Terry] didn't show up in court, and things have been done differently with this case, mainly because they think Dee Anne's a friend of the director."

The day after the cookout, a full investigation was launched -- into the Crocker cookout, rather than the Deen-Williams scandal. When probation officers reported for work the next morning, several who had attended the event got their summons to report to the district attorney's office for questioning.

According to Ramirez, the interrogations supposedly were designed to determine whether any official agency information or documents had been distributed at the event. Investigators wanted lists of people who had attended the fund-raiser, as well as what they had talked about. Ramirez says only black and Hispanic workers were interrogated.

"All of them said this is unethical, all this information-asking, none of us would do that at all, but we do have a right to discuss things among ourselves," the former director says.

Crocker later had a heated discussion with prosecutor David Lott concerning the grilling.

"I told him that I didn't appreciate him bringing up my name and did he have something that he needed to ask me. I didn't understand why he was calling people in when they were at a private party on their own time. It appeared to be politically motivated."

Juvenile probation director Bailey says he called in the D.A. because a staff member present at the fund-raiser had claimed confidential reports had been given to Crocker. After the questioning, the D.A. declined to pursue the matter.

Bailey denied that the investigation was designed to intimidate workers from supporting his predecessor in her judicial race.

"Our position was that to know that and having got that information and not having relayed it to the D.A. would in fact be a crime itself, so we took the safe route," says Bailey. "I never got involved and I didn't call the staff in and do any haranguing of them; we just let the chips fall where they may. Once the D.A. said he was through with it, fine, we were through with it, too. And the staff certainly couldn't feel retaliated against."

Bailey attributes the interest in Deen's case to a vendetta involving his predecessor.

"There's a group of people that are still loyal to the chief that was run off, Teresa Ramirez, when I got this job seven years ago," he says. "Quite honestly, a number of times I thought I had gotten over all that, and everybody was going to be buddies, but apparently that's not necessarily the case, especially when Teresa is running for election against Pat Shelton. So this has emerged."

Hard feelings apparently aren't limited to the agency. Terry, after his mother relayed a Houston Press message to him, called recently to say he is once more on his own. With the charges against him, he refused to reveal his location, only that it was no longer Dee Anne Deen's town house.

Three days earlier, he says, Deen told him he would have to leave because she was selling the residence and moving back to Anahuac to live with her mother. Moving with her is not an option, explains the boy, because Deen's family is conservative and doesn't understand the nature of their relationship.

On previous visits, he says, he pretended that he was a kid rather than Deen's lover.

"They kind of expect that from a dude my age," he says. "That's when I started distancing myself from them. She feels like her family didn't like that, and ever since then I can sense that feeling."

Terry says that on his last visit, he noticed a Confederate flag in her relative's home and that Deen did not seem disturbed by the racial implications -- he's African-American and she's white. "I really didn't too much like it," recalls the boy, "so I just didn't too much go back there."

He still seemed shocked that he had been abandoned. "All of a sudden she's saying she's going back to move with her mama, and I gotta go somewhere."

The boy credits Deen with good motives. "She was looking out for my interests, she was helping out, we were trying to complete the program. As far as helping herself, I don't even think she planned on sex. It just happened, 'cause she mentioned it had been a long time since she even thought about it. I thought it was a dream."

Terry's mother got a call from Deen at about the same time, saying she could no longer take care of the boy.

"What I wanted to tell her was with all the expensive gifts you gave Terry, you have come out better," the mother says. "You should have been trying to help me and my family, so I could help him."

Deen told her she and Terry were having problems, and his mother says she exploded, saying, "Ms. Deen, you say he has a problem. You have the problem. That's a child and you're a probation officer. You don't keep letting a child handle you like that."

Williams says her main concern is her son, whom she describes as out of control and on the street.

"I had a feeling this was going to get out of hand. My child is out there and confused. I'm worried about it. Could it be that now she's tired of him and out of money?

"If it's like that, then I feel sorry for her. She took a problem and made it a greater problem. Maybe she did have good intentions at first because [Terry] is such a good person. But she had a job to do."

According to Terry's mother, juvenile probation staffers gave an indication of why there's no eagerness to track him down. She says they're willing to let the case be continued indefinitely until Terry becomes an adult next year, at which time charges would be dismissed.

Terry, the boy the system was supposed to shelter and counsel, sounds angry and cynical. "I just kind of feel like I wasted a lot of time," he says. "She said she loved me, and I thought she did."

Before hanging up the phone, Terry was asked about his future. "I was running from the police last night," he says, refusing to explain further.

"Right now I just don't want to think about that."

That's a sentiment that seems to be shared by Deen's former bosses in juvenile probation.


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