This afternoon, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales announced Assistant District Attorney Daryl Harris will lead the office’s newly created Civil Rights Division.
Bexar County Commissioners approved funding for the division in October 2020. It will handle cases of officer-involved shootings, custodial deaths and allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement. The Civil Rights Division consists of two prosecutors, an investigator and an advocate. The CRD reports directly to District Attorney Gonzales.
“Since taking office in January 2019, I saw the need to make changes to how the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office handles these types of cases. While I required those cases be presented to a Grand Jury for review, those cases were still being handled by a team of prosecutors who had other types of criminal offenses as part of their caseload. Over the summer, amidst growing awareness of the need for transparency and independence in Bexar County and beyond, I saw the need to create a division dedicated specifically to these offenses. Daryl is a dedicated public servant. Like me, he has seen the need to make change to how our office handles these cases. He is already conducting reviews and looking for new ways to make our process as fair and independent as possible,” Gonzales said.
Harris has been with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office since July 2002. He has prosecuted misdemeanor and felony offenses. Harris has also served as the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Trial Division and Chief of the Intake Division. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Kansas State University and St. Mary’s University School of Law. Prior to joining the District Attorney’s Office, Harris served as an officer in the United States Army before he retired in 2001.
“The emerging Civil Rights Division of the District Attorney’s Office is important to me because I have watched the reporting about officer involved shootings of citizens and evaluated the contentious back and forth debate that follows these incidents since Ferguson. I have considered these arguments as a black man, a father, a retired soldier, an attorney, a career prosecutor, but most importantly as an American citizen. The discourse in 2020 has been particularly intense in this country, and the county that I live in and have learned to love. My objective has always been to perform my duties as a Bexar County Assistant District Attorney with that same sense of commitment, duty and integrity. All our citizens have rights which must be protected and respected – I think those in uniform agree with that. All police officers – in every department – are authorized to use force when necessary to serve and protect us – I think the public knows and agrees with that. These two points come into conflict when a citizen is injured or killed by a police officer. That conflict defines the space where the Civil Rights Division must live and do our work. Our laws define criminal behavior. They also establish defenses and justifications – available to citizens accused of a crime - for the use of force. Our job is to apply those laws to the facts of every case and to do so as thoroughly, rigorously, and evenhandedly as the public expects and as the law requires. I understand that this approach will frustrate or upset either side in one case or another. I accept that; but the only promise I make is that we will always seek to do the harder right instead of the easier wrong,” Harris said.
The division operates 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 early on, 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 will present its findings directly to the District Attorney for additional review and charging decisions.
- 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 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. 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. Those memos would serve as the only comment the District Attorney’s Office will make on the case. The memos will be posted on the Civil Rights Division webpage.
Because the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office is not a primary investigative agency, all reports about or information related to criminal activity or on-going investigations should be directed to a law enforcement agency so that it may be properly investigated.
The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office will not reopen a closed case without new evidence that was either not known or unavailable at the time of its filing with this office for review.