All communications between DA Joe Gonzales, Wren Collective subpoenaed in SAPD shooting case

DA ordered to produce records ahead of hearing Wednesday in ex-SAPD officer James Brennand aggravated assault case

SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales was ordered Tuesday to hand over all communications between his staff and the Wren Collective about the high-profile 2022 shooting of a teenager by a San Antonio police officer, court records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.

The subpoena in the aggravated assault by a public servant case against ex-SAPD officer James Brennand was filed by his defense team on Monday, days after KSAT revealed Gonzales’ staff had extensive discussions about the case with Jessica Brand, founder of the Austin-based criminal justice reform group the Wren Collective.

On-duty San Antonio Police officer James Brennand shot then-17-year-old Erik Cantu in a McDonald’s parking lot in October 2022, after identifying Cantu’s vehicle from an evading arrest case the previous night.

Three days after the shooting, SAPD released portions of body-worn camera footage that showed Brennand firing multiple rounds into the vehicle where Cantu and his then-17-year-old female friend Emily Proulx were eating, as Cantu attempted to back up and drive away.

The DA’s office rejected charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and evading arrest against Cantu on October 7, 2022.

Gonzales held a 3:30 p.m. press conference outside the Bexar County Justice Center to make the formal announcement.

Records obtained by KSAT show that on that same day, just before 9 a.m., Brand texted First Assistant District Attorney Christian Henricksen recommending that Gonzales hold a press conference with Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announcing the dropping of charges and to state that the incident had harmed public trust.

Henricksen replied that he was trying to get Gonzales on the phone and would be advising him to dismiss the charges “immediately.”

Henricksen later texted Brand that he was rejecting the cases against Cantu and that Gonzales wanted to move forward with a press conference.

Brand replied that a member of her team was working on talking points for the press event.

The family of Cantu, who was critically injured in the shooting but survived, was not permitted to see him in the hospital while he faced criminal charges.

Salazar, whose agency was not involved in the Cantu shooting investigation, continued to distance himself from the Wren Collective Monday.

“This organization, whomever they are, seemed very intent on having me weigh in on things that I have nothing to do with,” said Salazar.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar hold a news conference to update the media about a man suspected in a double homicide at a home in northeast Bexar County late last year. (Copyright 2023 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Late last week, an attorney representing Salazar sent a cease and desist letter to the Wren Collective, requesting that the group stop using Salazar and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office to further its agenda.

In a separate letter sent by Salazar to Gonzales last week, the sheriff asked his fellow elected official to “respect attorney-client privilege” moving forward.

Salazar wrote that he was not pleased with how often his name was utilized in the back-and-forth messaging between Gonzales, Henricksen and Brand.

Brennand, who was indicted in the case in December 2022, is scheduled to make an appearance in the 437th District Court on Wednesday.

His defense team requested a change of venue for the trial in a motion filed in October.

A hearing for the change of venue was reset late last month, court records show.

The subpoena commands the DA’s office to produce by Wednesday morning text messages, emails, social media service messages, messaging applications, recorded conversations and tangible correspondence from both office-issued and personally owned devices.

The DA’s office did not respond to an email from KSAT Tuesday seeking comment on the subpoena.

Brennand’s attorney, Nico LaHood, a former Bexar County District attorney, released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“Through the reporting of KSAT 12 News, we recently learned that District Attorney Joe Gonzales and his top assistants were taking direction from the ‘consulting firm’ known as the Wren Collective on numerous cases, including the Attempted Murder charge against former San Antonio Police Officer James Brennand. One of the grounds Texas law provides for a change of venue in a criminal case is that the defendant, cannot receive a fair trial due to a ‘dangerous combination against the defendant in the county instigated by influential persons.’ We cited this ground in our motion to move Mr. Brennand’s trial, on account of the inflammatory statements, made by SAPD Chief William McManus and District Attorney Gonzales, following the shooting. These statements were directed to prejudice the potential jurors of Bexar County against Mr. Brennand, and deprive him of a fair trial, by an impartial jury. We now know that District Attorney Gonzales’s ‘messaging’ in Mr. Brennand’s case was fashioned by members of the Wren collective. Today we served the District Attorney with a subpoena, commanding him to produce all communications between his office and members of the Wren Collective concerning Mr. Brennand and his case. These communications are necessary to present the court with a full picture of District Attorney Gonzales’s campaign to prejudice the jurors of Bexar County against Mr. Brennand. We look forward to the District Attorney’s response, and a full public airing of the Wren Collective’s influence in this case.”

Hear from LaHood why the subpoena was issued in the video player below:

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

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.

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.