Domestic violence task force chips away at case backlog

DA Nico LaHood gives update on new program

SAN ANTONIO – The justice system is seeing change when it comes to handling domestic violence cases.

Six months ago, Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood talked to KSAT about a massive backlog of domestic violence cases. Now, he's explaining how proposed changes have become reality.

When LaHood took office, he knew the backlog of domestic violence cases was leaving victims hanging, abusers without consequences and a continuing cycle of violence.

He said to combat the problem, he would bring in a domestic violence task force composed of a team of prosecutors to deal specifically with felony domestic violence cases.

READ: Help for domestic violence victims

"Choking, continuous assaults, things like that," LaHood explained.

There is now a team of 10 people working daily, meaning there is is now a felony domestic violence prosecutor in every court.

"We saw previously these cases fall through the crack. That's why this has become an issue. Not anymore. We have a unit of 10 that are focusing on just these specific cases," LaHood said.

Each of the 10 prosecutors handles up to 10 felony trial cases a week. There are still hundreds of other pending cases that have come in over the last six months.

READ: What domestic violence victims need to know before leaving an abuser

The prosecutors were added gradually, the last starting in November.

"I'm not going to try to say, 'Oh, we fixed the whole issue within six months or eight months. We've talked about this.' But we see potential light at the end of the tunnel," LaHood said.

There has been a slight dent made in the backlog. At the end of 2014 there were 198 pending cases. Last year, the DA's office had more cases filed, but by the end of 2015, had just 187 pending.

Plus there have been more convictions for felony domestic violence. In 2014 there were 66 convictions. In 2015, there were 100.

"The problem we have is that cases keep coming in," LaHood said.

READ: Domestic violence victims have rights

Lahood said the only way to stop that is by breaking the cycle.

"How do they look at their family? How do they look at their role as a daddy, a husband, a boyfriend, a man, a citizen in our community? Unless we start having those conversations and working with organizations that help heal people from whatever the deep issue is, then we're never going to be effective," he said.

Below is more information on the statistics gathered by the Office of Court Administration on domestic violence cases in the past couple years.

Felony Family Violence Assaults (Prosecuted by the Domestic Violence Task Force):

  • As of 12-31-14: 198 pending cases
  • As of 12-31-15: 187 pending cases

*Decrease of: 5.5555 percent (this is a decrease despite indicting almost 18 percent more cases)

  • Total number of cases (Felony Family Violence Assault) filed in 2014 by indictment: 284
  • Total number of cases (Felony Family Violence Assault) filed in 2015 by indictment: 335

*Increase of: 17.9577 percent

Total convictions for Felony Family Violence Assaults:

  • 2014: 66
  • 2015: 100

*Increase of: 51.5151 percent

Total number of defendants sent to TDCJ for Felony Family Violence Assault

  • 2014: 25
  • 2015: 42

*Increase of: 68.0000 percent

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.