SAN ANTONIO – A months-long investigation by the KSAT 12 Defenders found thousands of defendants charged with felonies in Bexar County being interviewed for possible release without having to pay bail.
Records compiled from the start of June through early September found that close to 2,600 defendants were interviewed by pretrial services staff for a possible personal recognizance (PR) bond. These type of bonds are typically issued to defendants who cannot afford to pay bail, as long as they have gone through a risk assessment and promise to show up for all of their future court appearances.
Among the dozens of defendants who were interviewed and then quickly released on PR bonds included suspects charged with injury to a child, assault of a public servant and arson.
Multiple employees, who spoke with the Defenders on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, criticized how the county is now handling these type of interviews and releases. The employees said the result is putting dangerous people back into the community.
Mike Lozito, the director of the Bexar County Office of Criminal Justice, pushed back on the criticism and said his department is appropriately following the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
“It’s our duty to get individuals that are eligible and bring them to the magistrate for them to look at it,” said Lozito. “There are people with very lengthy criminal histories that do these same offenses, that have the money to make the bond and they get out and they are very dangerous.”
Two bites at the apple
Besides defendants being interviewed for possible release on a PR bond after they are arrested, Lozito said others are identified for this type of possible release a day or two after being taken into custody by a jail population impact control unit.
This unit works with the court of record and not with the magistrate, Lozito said, describing the defendant screening process as “two bites at the apple.”
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
In a written statement, Gonzales said:
“Most people accused of a crime have a constitutional right to bond. An Assistant District Attorney and/or a public defender may have an opportunity to make a bond recommendation at magistration, but ultimately that decision is made by a judge. People with no criminal history may receive a personal bond. People who have undergone a mental health assessment may also receive a personal bond. These bonds may also include conditions to ensure the public’s safety and that the defendant will appear in court. For example, a person accused of an offense involving intoxication may be required to obtain an interlock ignition for his or her vehicle; a person released on a mental health bond may require the defendant get treatment.”
When San Antonio police issued a warrant for the arrest of Damaris Acosta in early June, the woman she was accused of running over in the 900 block of Bandera Rd. was unresponsive at a hospital suffering from head trauma and a broken pelvis.
The victim from the crash survived her injuries, an SAPD spokesperson confirmed.
A witness followed the vehicle that hit the woman and later provided officers with a picture of its license plate.
That information led officers to Acosta, whose vehicle was still “warm to the touch” and had damage to its front quarter panel, according to the warrant obtained by the Defenders.
Records show that Acosta was released on a PR bond the same day she was charged.
Despite the seriousness of the charge, Lozito said failure to stop and render aid causing serious bodily injury is an eligible charge for a PR bond release, under Article 17.03 of the code of criminal procedure.
Richard Sosa was given a PR bond in late July, a day after San Antonio police said he wrecked his vehicle while driving drunk with three children inside and was combative and threatening toward officers.
Sosa, who was charged with felony DWI with a child under 15 in the vehicle, resisting arrest and making a terroristic threat against a peace officer, could not be treated for a head injury at the scene because he “was so abusive to EMS that they were unable to give him any aid," according to an SAPD DWI report of the incident obtained through an open records request.
Sosa is also accused of telling an officer he would “kick my (expletive)” if he were not in handcuffs, the report states.
Lozito said even though Sosa faces a list of charges from the crash none of them made him ineligible for a PR bond.
Jonas Carranco was interviewed for a PR bond then later released in late August after Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputies said he scratched them and left them bloody and injured after a physical altercation.
Carranco was also accused of spitting in the face of one of the deputies, according to his arrest report for harassment of a public servant.
Less than a week after Carranco was walked out of jail without having to post bail, records show he was right back in BCSO custody, this time charged with assaulting a family member.
When pressed about whether Carranco being quickly rearrested was what his staff anticipated Lozito said, “No it was not. Absolutely was not the intent.”
Lozito added that Carranco was originally released on a mental health bond, back into the public, instead of being held on an emergency detention.
A Defenders investigation last year revealed that more than 32 percent of Bexar County domestic violence suspects released on PR bonds were later rearrested.
The charges included murder and aggravated sexual assault.
A separate Defenders investigation in August found that in less than a six-month period of time, close to 100 defendants were released on PR bonds in Bexar County because they were held in jail 90 days or longer without being indicted or going to trial.