DA Gonzales pushes back on KSAT exposé into workplace complaints

In remarks before county commissioners Tuesday, DA says story gave ‘incorrect impression’ that there are major management issues

SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales on Tuesday publicly took issue with KSAT’s reporting on workplace complaints within his agency, telling county commissioners that low pay is the primary catalyst behind a drove of recent resignations.

With a large group of DA employees in attendance, Gonzales said KSAT’s March 27 exposé gave off the “incorrect impression” that major management issues exist within his agency.

“There’s been an unfair news account that happened about a week ago that I need to address because it is neither fair or accurate to reduce everyone’s hard work to just a few moments of sensational journalism,” said Gonzales.

In resignation letters and exit interviews obtained by KSAT following a public records request, employees who recently left the DA’s office detailed grievances that included a “hostile and toxic” work environment, harassment, and a lack of communication and accountability.

To date, nearly 20 former DA employees have spoken with KSAT about issues they encountered while employed with the office.

Gonzales, who conceded during his remarks that he had not personally reviewed the exit interview forms submitted by departing employees, said he is taking the complaints seriously and is addressing those issues.

He said similar issues are present among all large organizations, including the DA’s office, which employs more than 500 people.

He then quickly pivoted to the issue of low pay, telling commissioners that many employees, particularly prosecutors, have resigned for jobs elsewhere that offer higher pay and lower caseloads.

Gonzales called the low pay issue a “crisis” situation within his office and a threat to public safety.

Pay issues, including prosecutors leaving Bexar County for higher salaries in sometimes smaller counties, were included in KSAT’s original story on the workplace complaints.

Shades of Michelle Barrientes Vela

Gonzales’ appearance Tuesday before commissioners had shades of an appearance made by then-Precinct 2 constable Michelle Barrientes Vela in June 2019.

Then-constable Michelle Barrientes Vela appears at commissioners court in June 2019. (KSAT)

Barrientes Vela griped to commissioners about media coverage of the inner workings of her office, while members of her agency stood with her in solidarity.

She was removed from office months later after publicly claiming that she would run for sheriff instead of seek re-election to the constable’s office.

The comments, which triggered the state’s resign-to-run law, came as the Texas Rangers and FBI raided Precinct 2′s Northwest Side offices.

Gonzales’ comments on Tuesday, however, appeared to strike a chord with commissioners, who said they will take steps to address pay issues within the DA’s office.

Gonzales, to date, has not sat down with KSAT to discuss the employee complaints, although a DA spokesperson said via email Tuesday that Gonzales will do so later this week.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.

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