This morning, Bexar County Commissioners approved a request from Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales for funding to establish a Civil Rights Division. The division will include two prosecutors, an investigator and an advocate at a cost of $385,984.
The Civil Rights Division will handle cases of officer-involved shootings, custodial deaths and excessive use of force by law enforcement. They will report directly to District Attorney Gonzales.
“I have spent the last few months reviewing how other District Attorney’s Offices handle these cases and believe a Civil Rights Division puts this office in line with larger counties, focusing on cases that deserve the highest scrutiny. Until the State of Texas establishes a truly independent investigative and prosecutorial process, I join other large District Attorney’s Offices in taking steps like these to make the review and prosecution of these cases as independent as possible,” Gonzales said.
Now that the positions have been approved, the jobs will be posted and the District Attorney’s Office will select the team. Once staffed, the division will operate as follows:
- A prosecutor and the investigator will respond to the scene of an officer-involved shooting to monitor the scene. Law enforcement will still be required to conduct an investigation and file their case with our office for review.
- In the event of a death, the advocate will reach out to the family of the deceased to establish a point of contact with our office. As with any other case, advocates explain the process of our office to include what happens with a case once it reaches the District Attorney’s Office.
- The Civil Rights Division will review the entire file provided by law enforcement and will conduct any necessary additional investigation.
- The Civil Rights Division present its findings directly to the District Attorney for additional review.
- As has been the case since District Attorney Gonzales took office in January 2019, every case will be presented to a Grand Jury. If the Grand Jury declines to hand down an indictment (a no-bill), the District Attorney’s Office will release a publicly available memo explaining the facts of the individual case and its analysis. If the Grand Jury issues a true bill of indictment, the case would be forwarded to a court and the Office could make no comment on the pending criminal matter. It is important to note that Chapter 20 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires Grand Jury proceedings be kept secret. Violations of the law could lead to criminal penalties.
Previously, these cases were handled by the Special Crimes Division, which was also responsible for the review and prosecution of other felony and misdemeanor offenses. That division will now be known as the Public Integrity and Cyber Crimes Division. Among the crimes handled by the division:
- public corruption and abuse of office;
- internet crimes targeting children;
- election integrity;
- complex financial crime;
- elder fraud;
- and money laundering and fiduciary theft.
“These structural changes are integral to continuing to focus the duties of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office on crimes that are essential to ensuring public trust and with as much transparency as is allowed by law,” Gonzales said.