KSAT Investigates year in review: From DA discord to Texas prison lockdowns

Dig into some of the investigative team’s most impactful work from 2023

KSAT Investigates year in review. (Joshua Saunders, Eddie Latigo, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – Public safety and the well-being of loved ones were two issues of great importance in the San Antonio community in 2023 and the driving forces behind much of the reporting from KSAT Investigates this year.

The investigative unit spent months reviewing resignation letters and exit questionnaires from former employees of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.

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The ex-staffers described a “hostile and toxic” work environment hampered by harassment and a lack of communication and accountability.

Some employees had nothing but good things to say about their experiences working in the DA’s office, but a large contingent laid out concerns ranging from low pay to divisions run by favoritism, documents obtained through public records requests showed.

KSAT subsequently spoke with more than a dozen former staffers.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales did not respond to repeated requests sent via email for the story and attempted to duck questions from KSAT Investigates during a public appearance last spring.

Gonzales, who is completing the first year of his second term in office, complained about the exposé while addressing county commissioners days after the article was published.

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

During a subsequent sit-down interview with KSAT, Gonzales said prosecutor vacancies driven in part by better compensation offered in neighboring counties were to blame for some of the problems.

Late this summer, Gonzales became the focus of criticism from the public after a rash of incidents in which SAPD officers were shot by violent suspects they were pursuing.

Dominick Rubio mugshots (KSAT 12)

During a 12-day period, five SAPD officers were struck by gunfire and another one accidentally shot himself while pursuing an armed suspect.

At the time of the shootings, the suspects had violent criminal histories or active warrants, prompting SAPD Chief William McManus to repeatedly say publicly that the individuals should have been in jail instead of on the streets.

Gonzales in response said several factors contributed to many of these suspects not being in jail or prison, pointing out that it’s the job of law enforcement to take people into custody who have warrants.

KSAT Investigates in late September exposed records showing the DA’s office recommended low bonds for a man accused of threatening to kill a Universal City family and get in a shootout with police.

Jordan James, who had no previous criminal history in Bexar County, was taken to jail and formally booked on Aug. 29.

Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Michael Acevedo, who was appearing remotely, recommended a $5,000 bond for an unlawful carry of a weapon charge, a $5,000 bond for a terroristic threat-family charge and a $30,000 bond for a terroristic threat-public fear charge, jail footage obtained by KSAT through a public records request showed.

Judge Rolando Ramos, after noting the gravity of what he had read in James’ charging paperwork, tripled Acevedo’s recommendations, setting James’ bond at $10,000 for unlawful carry of a weapon, $10,000 for terroristic threat-family and $100,000 for terroristic threat-public fear.

James remains free on bond awaiting trial, Bexar County court records show.

Following meetings between city and county leaders, a letter released publicly last month made numerous recommendations to improve public safety.

The long list of proposed changes includes a need for better communication between agencies, more manpower or retention of employees, and improved technology.

Parents sew recording device in toddler’s jacket, capture audio of day care worker threatening to harm kids

KSAT Investigates in April exposed two employees of a San Antonio day care who directed profane language toward young children, with one of the women even threatening to harm kids in her care.

Nearly seven hours of audio, recorded by a small device sewn into a toddler’s jacket late last year, caused the day care’s parent company to permanently ban both women from working at its facilities.

Parents sew recording device in toddler’s jacket, capture audio of day care worker threatening to harm kids

The audio, recorded inside Mossrock KinderCare in the 2700 block of Mossrock on the North Side, captured one employee making the following comments to young children in her care:

  • “I’m gonna go and I’m going to beat both of y’all. That’s what I’m going to do.”
  • “I’m about to throw some bitch swings at some of y’all right now.”
  • “Get up and move! Sit down (baby whimpers). Sit your ass down. Come sit down now (name redacted).”
  • “You better not be playing with that soap because I’m going to leave that soap in your hand and you’re going to eat with it (baby cries). Get away. Go sit down!”
  • “Touch it and you die.”
  • “Sit your ass down.”
  • “Just get away from me, because I will end up in jail.”
  • “You’re an assh---.”
  • “Shut the f--- up (name redacted). Go (name redacted). Get your ass over there and start jacking off over there.”
  • “You’re nasty (baby cries).”

At another point, the woman said on the recording, “I’ll start being violent. Just for her.” It’s not clear in the recording whether the woman is talking about a child or a parent who recently visited the facility.

Exclusive look at the Texas prison lockdown

In this four-part series, KSAT Investigates took you inside a Texas prison during a statewide lockdown. It was the first time every Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison had been forced into a lockdown in more than a decade.

“All of our facilities go through some type of shake-down procedure each year, but to take a whole system down at once had not been done since 2008,” said Bobby Lumpkin, director of correctional institutions divisions for TDCJ.

According to TDCJ’s website, a lockdown at each facility “will limit the movement of inmates and their contact with those outside the prison. Inmates and staff will undergo intensified searches to intercept and confiscate contraband.” The lockdown included comprehensive searches with K9 officers and specialized search teams.

Our investigation highlighted the problems that led to this lockdown, including a skyrocketing number of homicides, assaults, overdoses, and huge amounts of contraband coming inside.

As of Oct. 4, there have been 21 homicides at TDCJ prisons this year. In 2022 and 2021, there were seven and nine homicides, respectively.

On top of the murders, there have been 17 fatal overdoses this year as of early October. That is the same amount as all of 2022 and five more than in 2021.

To curb the trend, TDCJ is nixing its paper mail system and switching to an all-digital mail system. They’re finding many attempts to bring in illicit drugs have been made through the mail.

Investigative reporter Leigh Waldman and Photojournalist Eddie Latigo traveled to a maximum-security prison in Huntsville to speak with officials trying to stop the problems from continuing to happen and interview inmates impacted the most.

Unhealthy amounts of lead found in water at multiple San Antonio ISD schools

A months-long deep dive by our KSAT Investigates team found unhealthy levels of lead at several San Antonio ISD schools.

As things stand now, there are no state or federal regulations on testing; however, Texas does offer a voluntary testing program for schools and childcare facilities through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

According to public data from TCEQ’s Lead Testing in Schools and Child Care Program, SAISD tested places like water fountains, kitchen faucets, refrigerators, outdoor spigots and classroom faucets.

“We sampled almost 3,000 different samples that we had tested for lead,” said Dr. Melissa Hill, a professional geologist and assistant director of environmental health and safety with SAISD. “And of those, 96% of them came back below the threshold of 15 parts per billion.”

Fifty-six drinking fountains in Bexar County schools tested over the EPA threshold on the first round of testing. Of those, 49 were at SAISD schools.

Highland Park Elementary had two water fountains in its cafeteria test extremely high, one at 685.7 ppb and the other at 277.2 ppb.

Meanwhile, three other elementary schools also had water fountains tested extremely high.

  • Smith Elementary — a water fountain tested 124.2 ppb
  • Mark Twain Dual Language Academy — a water fountain tested 114 ppb
  • Pershing Elementary — a water fountain tested 107.5 ppb

District officials closed off access to the fountains and other faucets where elevated levels of lead were found.

Our KSAT Investigates Team reached out to 23 school districts in nine counties starting on Sept. 21.

SAISD was the only district to grant an in-person interview.

Want to share a tip with KSAT Investigates? Email ksatinvestigates@ksat.com.

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.

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

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