Here’s what the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association and District Attorney is saying after back-to-back mistrials.
BEXAR COUNTY, Texas — The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office created and staffed their Civil Rights Division in early 2021. The division handles officer-involved shootings and allegations of excessive force against law enforcement.
After bringing charges against three SAPD officers in two different trials, the Civil Rights Division had both cases end in a mistrial for violation of Brady evidence rules. Now the San Antonio Police Officers Union is asking if those cases were legitimate.
“Why are you not disclosing all the evidence at discovery? That’s discovery 101,” SAPOA President Danny Diaz asked. “If you are withholding evidence, and you are only doing it against officers, should those officers be charged to begin with?”
Former SAPD Officers Carlos Castro and Thomas Villarreal walked into a Bexar County court accused of aggravated assault by a public servant in September of 2023. One week later, they walked back out with the case ending in a mistrial.
Prosecutors had planned to bring in witnesses, SAPD police academy trainers, but never disclosed to the defense that the witnesses had previously stated they did not believe Thomas Villarreal used excessive force. By failing to disclose the testimony beforehand, the prosecutors violated the “Brady Rule” which requires disclosure of information that could prove a defendant not guilty.
The Bexar County District Attorney later dropped the case against Villareal entirely and reduced charges against Castro to assault causing bodily injury.
Oscar Cruz Jr. was charged with deadly conduct after officials say he shot at two teens in March 2020, while they were running away. That case ended in a mistrial on Jan. 17 after prosecutors again failed to inform the defense team with relevant information. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said the lead prosecutor presented it to the defense just 30 minutes after prosecutors discovering it.
Defense Attorney Nico LaHood, a managing partner in the LaHood Norton Law Group which represented Cruz Jr., said prosecutors informed the defense that the two teens mentioned above, the victims in this case, were actually facing “serious felonies” at the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office at the same time and that information was never disclosed. LaHood said that information would have been relevant as they prepared for cross examination before going to trial.
“That’s ‘Brady information’ that should have been disclosed to us long before trial started and so the judge had no choice but to grant a mistrial,” LaHood said.
LaHood, a former Bexar County District Attorney himself, said was normally “very unusual” for a mistrial to be granted on rules of evidence because experienced attorneys don’t normally make that mistake.
“The person that is the chief of the (Bexar County) Civil Rights Division is not a ‘rookie.’ He’s been a licensed lawyer and prosecutor for over a decade. This is not a rookie mistake, this is either incompetence or intentional,” LaHood said.
The Bexar County Civil Rights Division reports directly to District Attorney Joe Gonzales. When KENS 5 spoke to Gonzales Wednesday, he pushed back against the notion that the division acted incompetently.
“I disagree. You are talking about a division that has handled more than 115 different cases and charging decisions and we have a situation where we have two different trials where one case is more clear cut than the other in terms of the decision to disclose and when the evidence was disclosed,” Gonzales said. “In the case involving Mr. Cruz, the information came to our prosecutors after the jury was selected, within an hour of being made aware that was disclosed.”
KENS 5 asked if prosecutors should have known about the information before the case started and Gonzales said “in that situation it was difficult” because the information involved was in the county’s juvenile system. He said the county is “working on ways to improve that.” Regardless, the failure to disclose resulted in a mistrial.
While the Bexar County Civil Rights Division has reviewed more than 115 cases, it had moved five of those cases forward for indictment as of last September. In fact, the case against Castro and Villarreal and the later case against Cruz were the first two cases the division had actually taken to trial and the crimes allegedly committed by those officers happened back in 2020.
KENS 5 asked Gonzales if there was a problem when the first two trials prosecuted by the Civil Rights Division both ended in mistrials.
“No, I don’t think it is,” Gonzales said. “I am comfortable that those are cases that happened because that was information that was brought to our prosecutor’s attention after the case began and after the jury was selected. I don’t believe the prosecutor involved in this case committed an intentional act of failing to disclose or sitting on information that he had.”
“I don’t believe that it is a situation that is chronic,” Gonzales continued. “We’ve talked about it. I’ve counseled that prosecutor about making sure that we improve trial preparation and that we do everything that we can to avoid this situation happening again.”
Gonzales also told KENS 5 he might add staff to the Civil Rights Division in the future as it is currently a five-person team.
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