SAN ANTONIO – Nearly 30% of Bexar County defendants bonded out by the Texas Organizing Project as part of its bail program were later taken back into custody in the same case, records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.
Other defendants bailed out by the prominent Texas political advocacy group were later accused in more serious criminal cases, the records show.
Since the fall of 2022, TOP has bonded out defendants in Bexar County charged with crimes including felony vehicle theft, felony hit and run causing serious bodily injury or death and felony family violence.
Other defendants were bailed out on lesser charges, including DWI, failure to ID and criminal trespassing, records show.
TOP’s efforts through its Right2Justice program faced intense scrutiny late last year, after a defendant it bonded out in a 2022 family violence case, Shane James, was accused of killing six people, including his parents, in a multi-county murder spree.
But advocates of the bail program said it keeps some people from entering the margins of society and that it is difficult to predict the future behavior of someone bonded out of jail while awaiting trial.
“A bail funding organization is not, especially something that happened years ago or a year ago, can’t be held responsible for somebody’s future actions,” said Shannon Locke, a San Antonio criminal defense attorney.
“Everybody deserves the benefit. Everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt,” added Locke.
Defendants in at least 196 cases bonded out by TOP since October 2022
The advocacy group has previously said publicly it created its Right2Justice program to counter a bail system that disproportionately targets low-income Black and Latino Texans.
In the fall of 2021, TOP released a statement celebrating passing the $1 million mark in bonds paid for defendants.
Even though the group has stated its efforts were concentrated in Harris, Dallas, Fort Bend and Bexar Counties, a vast majority of funds spent on bonds at that time, more than $978,000, had been distributed in Bexar County.
More recently, TOP has bonded out Bexar County defendants in at least 196 cases since jail officials began tracking these statistics in October 2022.
In 58 of those cases, 29.6%, defendants had warrants issued for their re-arrest, usually for failing to show up for court appearances.
The rate of re-arrest in the same case jumps to 39.6% when tossing out defendants set free by TOP within the last several months.
Locke, who looked over some of the same records released to KSAT, pointed out that some of the defendants bonded out by TOP had no next court date listed or later had the charges dismissed.
“There is, in my opinion, a real problem when you are involved in the criminal justice system and they don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t think they should have stayed in jail. And I think that as a society, as a constitutional republic, as a free people, what we wanna do is give people the chance to see what happens next,” said Locke.
TOP has bailed out as many as 44 defendants a month in Bexar County as part of its program, records show.
“This is not something that’s going to be accepted in society.”
Shane James was arrested in Austin in early December after law enforcement authorities said he killed his parents inside their northeast Bexar County home before killing four more people and injuring three others in Austin in a string of attacks.
James had previously been arrested in early January 2022, after BCSO deputies said he assaulted his parents and sister inside their home at 6403 Port Royal, outside Kirby.
While in custody, James’ bond was reduced twice from the original $2,000, first on Jan. 27, 2022, to $500 per case, then on Feb. 23, 2022, to $100 per case.
Laquita Garcia, statewide police coordinator for the Texas Organizing Project, then submitted paperwork to bond out James on Feb. 28, 2022, records show.
James was released from the Bexar County Jail on March 7, 2022, with bond conditions for the misdemeanor cases including GPS monitoring that restricted him to Haven for Hope, Crosspoint and Villa Serena, all of which offer mental health treatment.
James cut off his ankle monitor a day after being released from jail, leading the court to issue three warrants for his re-arrest, officials previously said.
Despite the outstanding warrants for his arrest, James remained free for 21 months, records show.
Deputies encountered James in a bedroom at the home on Port Royal in late August but declined to take him into custody on the warrants to avoid a possible “violent confrontation,” Sheriff Javier Salazar previously said.
Deputies instead asked James’ father to call them back once James emerged from the bedroom and things had settled down, according to Salazar.
“By all appearances, it doesn’t appear that that call ever came in,” Salazar previously said.
TOP officials, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment from KSAT for this story, released a statement in December condemning James’ “recent egregious acts.”
“We take our responsibilities seriously and acknowledge that we must address both the immediate impact of this tragedy and the broader implications for our bail program,” TOP spokesman Daniel Barrera’s Dec. 6 statement read.
Barrera added in the statement that TOP was committed to conducting a comprehensive internal review of its bail program and processes and that James had gone through a “thorough and rigorous screening process” prior to being bailed out by the group.
Locke told KSAT the James case illustrates a bigger public safety concern than defendants being bailed out: the issue of unresolved warrants.
But James is far from the only defendant bonded out by TOP to later face new criminal charges.
In October 2022, Benjamin Sanchez Jr. was identified as one of three suspects accused of breaking into a Historic Market Square souvenir shop in the middle of the night and stealing more than $5,000 worth of jewelry.
Surveillance footage obtained by KSAT Investigates shows three men, two of them wearing face coverings, entering the store through a smashed window and hectically tossing items into bags before running off.
“It was no more than two minutes. They were in here, they were out,” said the store’s owner, who asked that KSAT conceal his identity.
The downtown store has been in his family for nearly five decades.
“Oh man, I totally felt violated of my rights. Everything I work for. (It’s) hard to accomplish and have and run this business,” the man said.
SAPD investigators were later able to identify Sanchez as one of the suspects because of the cross tattoo on his face and “unique ears that protrude out to the sides” of his head, an arrest warrant affidavit states.
Sanchez, a felon with a lengthy criminal history in Bexar County and, at the time, two previous convictions for burglary of a habitation by force, was arrested in connection to the souvenir shop burglary days after the incident.
TOP bailed out Sanchez 11 days later, records show.
A warrant for Sanchez’s re-arrest was then issued in April, after he racked up pretrial violations, including his arrest on new charges of burglary of vehicles and burglary of a habitation by force, court records show.
Prosecutors dismissed the souvenir shop burglary charge against Sanchez in July after he pleaded guilty in both the burglary of vehicles case and the latest burglary of a habitation by force case, court records show.
Sanchez is currently serving six years in prison.
“I believe that they should not be bailing out dangerous people like that. This is not something that’s going to be accepted in society,” the souvenir shop owner told KSAT.
Reached by phone, Sanchez’s attorney said he could not comment on his client’s cases without speaking with him first.
After Scott Buchholz was accused of pointing a gun at a family member and charged with deadly conduct-family, TOP bonded him out of jail in June, records show.
Seven days later, a warrant was issued for Buchholz’s re-arrest after he failed to show up for a court appearance.
Buchholz was again released from jail in late July after serving time in the deadly conduct case.
In September, however, Buchholz was again arrested, after BCSO officials said he sprayed mace in the face of his mother and a uniformed deputy during a dispute at a far northeast Bexar County home.
The new charges were for assault of the elderly causing bodily injury and assault of a peace officer causing injury, court records show.
Prosecutors dismissed the assault of a peace officer charge against Buchholz last week after he pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of family violence.
Buchholz was sentenced to four months and nine days in jail, but was given credit for that full amount of time served, court records show.
Neither criminal defense attorney listed for Buchholz returned messages from KSAT seeking comment for this story.
In October, TOP bonded out defendant Braulio Rodriguez after he had been charged weeks earlier with making a terroristic threat - causing fear.
Rodriguez repeatedly made threats to a couple living near a VIA bus stop, the mass transit agency stated in a letter sent to the Texas Attorney General’s Office seeking to withhold the entire contents of the report.
Rodriguez’s threats included him telling the female complainant that he would “rape” her, the letter states.
The woman said she feared for her life and the couple eventually moved from their home, the letter states.
A warrant for the re-arrest of Rodriguez was issued in early December, due to pretrial violations, court records show.
Rodriguez pleaded no contest in the case in mid-December and was released from jail for time served, court records show.
Multiple defendants have been bonded out by TOP multiple times since October 2022, records show.
This list includes Hassain Muhammad Jr., who was bailed out by TOP in November 2022 in a criminal trespassing case.
Since then, Muhammad has been criminally charged in seven new cases, including three charges of criminal trespassing, criminal mischief, possession of drugs in a drug-free zone, theft and burglary of a building with the intent to commit theft, records show.
In the January 2023 burglary case, Muhammad was accused of damaging several windows, doors and toilets in a residence, causing the home to flood, an arrest warrant affidavit states.
After prosecutors reduced the charge in April, Muhammad was arrested in early November in the theft case, court records show.
TOP bonded out Muhammad again 11 days later, records show.
He has since been arrested two additional times, court records show.
Muhammad’s attorney did not respond to a message from KSAT seeking comment.
Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.