A brutal attack against an 11-year-old girl in Eastland could have been prevented if the local police department had not botched a previous case against her assailant, the girl’s family says in a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in Abilene this week.
The girl’s family says they have obtained evidence that the man who attacked and raped the girl in 2014 was investigated for another assault on two young girls eight months before, but the case was never filed.
“Astonishingly, the original case file was found to be incomplete and the videos along with the family’s statements were discovered untouched, lost in a pile of random papers on Sgt. Saylors’ desk,” the family’s attorneys wrote in a statement, referring to police investigator Sgt. Frank Saylors.
On a Sunday afternoon in January 2014, the 11-year-old girl, referred to as H.P. in court papers, went missing. She was found several hours later, nearly dead after being raped, beaten and stabbed by Clayton Lee Fought, the lawsuit says.
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In a 2014 internal investigation, the Eastland Police Department determined that Saylors mishandled a previous 2013 investigation involving Fought. The police chief at the time, Billy Myrick, wrote in the summary of the investigative report that the police department was also partially to blame.
H.P.’s family only recently was able to obtain the 2014 investigative summary, according to their lawyer, Tahira Khan Merritt of Dallas. The family concluded after reviewing the summary that if the 2013 investigation had been done properly, Fought would never have had the opportunity to attack their daughter.
City officials and the police department declined to comment on the suit.
Myrick and Saylors could not be reached for comment. In a 2014 interview, Saylors told local media he had done nothing wrong.
The Star-Telegram is not identifying H.P. because she is a minor. Her family members are not being named in order to protect H.P.’s identity.
A ‘vile attack’
On Jan. 5, 2014, H.P. was staying with her father at his home in Eastland. Her mother lived in Abilene.
Charles Fought of nearby Cisco, who was 21 at the time, was spending the night with H.P.’s father, his friend. That Sunday afternoon, Fought kidnapped the girl and drove with her in her father’s truck to a wooded area by Lake Cisco, according to police records.
Residents previously said H.P. was lured from her home with the promise of a surprise birthday party.
According to the lawsuit, Fought tried to make the girl smoke marijuana by blowing it into her mouth. He raped her, beat her with fists and a rock, slit her throat and tried to break her neck. He left her barely alive by the edge of the lake, according to the suit.
H.P.’s father reported her missing Sunday afternoon, which led to a search by Eastland police, the Texas Rangers, Eastland County Sheriff’s Department and several other area law enforcement agencies. She was found hours later.
The girl spent her 12th birthday and the next week in the hospital. Among her litany of injuries were a concussion, a stab wound on her neck, bite marks on her shoulder, a rapid brain bleed and “numerous contusions and abrasions to trunk, extremities, scalp, ears, shoulders, back, buttocks, hips and thighs,” according to the lawsuit.
Fought was arrested later the same day and confessed.
Merritt, H.P.’s family attorney, said H.P. may never recover from the attack.
“It is the most vile attack I’ve seen in the 30-plus years I’ve been practicing law,” she said. “It will forever change her life.”
Five years later, she’s still undergoing counseling, has harmed herself and suffers from short term memory, inattention, headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder, Merritt said.
“H.P. has never fully recovered from this attack,” the lawsuit states. “It is possible she never will.”
2010 sexual assault of young girls
The day Fought was arrested, a father of two girls called local news stations and told them he had reported to police a year ago that Fought sexually assaulted his two daughters in 2010 and that nothing had been done, according to police records.
The father had told Sgt. Saylors of the Eastland police in June 2013 that Fought sexually assaulted his 5-year-old and 7-year-old daughters in 2010, according to police records.
The next week, Saylors drove to a child advocacy center in Odessa to hear the girls’ account of the assault. The advocacy center supplied him a copy of the interview on DVD, according to police records.
Saylors, who was supposedly the department’s most experienced investigator, never questioned Fought and did not take an official statement from the girls’ father. He never submitted the case to the district attorney’s office for prosecution, according to the department’s internal investigation.
Eight months later, the DVD from the child advocacy center was found buried in unrelated paperwork on Saylors’ desk.
Saylors repeatedly lied to Police Chief Billy Myrick about his work on the case, according to the investigation.
When Myrick questioned him, Saylors said he did not know where the DVD of the girls’ interview was. He said he called the child advocacy center for another copy, but they could not provide one. He also told the chief he had not been in contact with the girls’ family since 2013, according to the report.
In the investigation summary, Myrick said he found out these statements were lies. Saylors had never called the child advocacy center. He had talked to the girls’ family three days before on the phone and told them the DVD was on his desk, according to audio of the phone call that Myrick reviewed.
Saylors also told Myrick and the girls’ father that the case had been turned over to Detective Ray Darden. Darden later told Myrick that he was never involved in the case.
Merritt, H.P.’s family attorney, said the Eastland Police Department neglected its duty to protect citizens and, as a result, H.P. was left vulnerable to the attack.
“Supposedly the police are there to protect and defend,” she said. “In this case, they had all the means to investigate this particular pedophile and had credible reports from two other victims. Had they done their duty, he would not have had access to the child.”
In May 2015, Fought was found guilty of attacking H.P. and the two other girls in 2010. He pleaded guilty to four charges, including attempted murder and sexual assault, and was sentenced to 60 years in prison in H.P.’s case and 20 years in each of the other cases.
‘Protect and defend’
On Jan. 17, 2014, Myrick submitted the internal investigation summary to Eastland City Manager Ron Duncan.
In the summary, Myrick wrote that Saylors mishandled the case and violated department policy.
However, he also said the Eastland Police Department, where nine officers worked at the time, was partially at fault.
“There is a failure here on the part of the Eastland Police Department as a whole because of the fact Sergeant Saylors is the most experienced officer in the department. ... Therefore, this investigation has shown we have inadequate policies within the department for tracking of cases and the handling of evidence which must be immediately corrected.”
Merritt said the department did not train officers sufficiently or enforce procedures. She said officers have to know how to handle sexual assault reports and how to interview victims, especially children.
“It’s a wake-up call for police departments to look at their policies and procedures on how they handle sexual assault cases,” she said.
Three senior Eastland police department members faced “administrative action” due to the 2014 investigation, according to a news release from City Manager Ron Duncan in 2014.
In the release, Duncan said the city was establishing reporting processes to more closely monitor performance at the police department, KTXS-12 reported.
The current Eastland police chief, David Hullum, declined to comment.
On Feb. 28, 2014, Saylors left the police department with the local paper, Eastland County Today, noting his departure and saying that “most consider (Saylors) to be among Eastland’s finest officers.”
In an interview with KTAB news in 2014, Saylors said he had been scapegoated by the department and had done nothing wrong.
In 2015, Saylors won election as city commissioner in Eastland.