Motions accuse DA’s Civil Rights Division of ‘intentional misconduct’ in officer mistrials

Division chief Daryl Harris defends handling of cases, after discovery issues were brought to light

SAN ANTONIO – Attorneys for three former San Antonio police officers accused of committing crimes while on duty have accused the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Division of intentionally concealing evidence that would have set their clients free, court records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.

The motions, filed this month in the criminal cases against ex-SAPD officers Carlos Castro and Oscar Cruz Jr., ask the judge in each case to bar the state from retrying them.

The motions claim prosecutors demonstrated “intentional misconduct” during each trial.

The head of the DA’s Civil Rights Division, Daryl Harris, defended his handling of the cases in an interview with KSAT earlier this month.

Castro reindicted on lesser charge after case ends in mistrial

A Bexar County judge granted a mistrial in early October for Castro and fellow ex-SAPD officer Thomas Villarreal.

The pair had been fired, and later indicted for aggravated assault by a public servant, after investigators said they kicked in the door of an East Side home in January 2020 and used excessive force while beating a man who had fled from a traffic stop.

Booking photo of Eric Wilson. (KSAT)

Castro and Villarreal struggled with the suspect, Eric Wilson, fearing he might reach for a weapon, so they punched him repeatedly until they were able to handcuff him, records show. Both officers had Wilson’s blood on their bodies, according to an SAPD report. Villarreal sustained a bruised hand from the incident.

In Wilson’s subsequent mugshot, injuries were visible around both of his eyes.

Attorneys for Castro and Villarreal told KSAT that after the trial started last fall, they learned three expert witnesses for the state had stated during pretrial interviews that the officers were constitutionally justified in arresting Wilson, and were justified in entering Wilson’s residence and searching his car and that at least one of the defendants did not use excessive force during the arrest.

“Our position is that their experts had exculpatory evidence that would substantiate our clients’ behavior and what they did and they acted legally in the course of their work, which goes towards their innocence and should be presented to a jury,” said Nico LaHood, attorney for both Castro and Villarreal.

Late last year, after the mistrial, prosecutors dismissed the charge against Villarreal, after prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence in the case.

Fired SAPD officer Carlos Castro is asking for his misdemeanor assault case to be dismissed due to intentional misconduct by the prosecution. (KSAT)

Castro was reindicted late last year on a misdemeanor charge of assault causing bodily injury, a steep reduction from the felony aggravated assault by a public servant charge he previously faced.

His attorneys have asked the judge to bar the prosecution from moving forward in the misdemeanor case since the mistrial occurred after a jury had already been picked and heard evidence.

“He has a constitutional right to that jury and it wasn’t because of anything that we did on our side or Mr. Castro did on that side for the judge to grant the mistrial. It was the malfeasance or the misbehavior of the government side of why that trial was a mistrial,” said LaHood.

A hearing to determine the merits of the motion in Castro’s case will likely take place this spring.

“We are waiting for the transcripts to be produced and we’ll get a setting then,” Harris told KSAT, after a recent court appearance for Castro.

Oscar Cruz Jr. case also ends in mistrial

Last month, just as the deadly conduct-firearm trial of ex-SAPD officer Oscar Cruz Jr. was getting underway, the judge in that case granted a mistrial.

Cruz, while on duty in March 2020, was called to the 9500 block of Five Forks for a report of two teens pulling on vehicle door handles.

Fired SAPD officer Oscar Cruz Jr. during his trial last month. (KSAT)

Cruz tried detaining one of the juveniles who ran away from him. During the chase, Cruz pulled out his service weapon and fired two shots toward the suspects, records show.

The officer was later fired and then indicted in early 2022.

After a jury had been seated for trial, however, Harris revealed that he had just learned the minors Cruz was accused of firing his gun at have pending criminal cases in juvenile court.

Courtroom footage shows Cruz’s defense attorney Jason Goss admonishing Harris for not checking his witnesses’ criminal histories prior to the start of the trial.

Defense attorney Jason Goss speaks at the bench during the trial for Oscar Cruz Jr. last month. (KSAT)

Jay Norton, who along with LaHood serves as another attorney for Cruz, revealed to KSAT that they learned one of the minors admitted to assaulting Cruz while previously being interviewed by investigators.

“Their witness committed a second-degree felony against Oscar Cruz and we didn’t know that until after the jury was selected,” said Norton.

Like Castro, Cruz will likely be granted a hearing this spring to determine the merits of his motion.

No hearing date has been set in either case, court records show.

After the Cruz mistrial, the third involving an ex-SAPD officer in less than four months, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales told KSAT in a written statement, ”A review of the internal disclosure process is now underway to determine the underlying cause of the error. All relevant procedures will be reevaluated and a stronger process put in place to ensure similar issues are avoided in the future.”

SAPOA slams Gonzales, again

Appearing on KSAT’s Q&A late last month, Gonzales said critics of his office, including the San Antonio Police Officers Association, had inaccurately stated that Harris had sat on evidence.

“It’s exactly because our prosecutor handed over the evidence the minute he discovered and was made aware of it is what caused the mistrial,” said Gonzales.

Gonzales said he was confident Harris and the Civil Rights Division had not deliberately hid evidence.

“I’ve since counseled him. We’ve talked to him and he realizes that he needs to go the extra mile and err on the side of disclosing everything,” said Gonzales.

Harris, when asked specifically about the motions accusing his division of intentional misconduct, told KSAT, “I’m aware of my duties under the law and I live up to them as best I know how.”

KSAT could find no record that Harris has been sanctioned for these alleged failures to disclose evidence.

“A serious concern.”

Robert Almonte II, who spent 15 years as a state and federal prosecutor before retiring from the U.S. Department of Justice in November to open a private defense practice, told KSAT that the attorneys for the fired officers made a deliberate decision to include such strong language in the motions.

“I think the court will take those allegations very seriously. Obviously, there’s got to be a basis for it. It’s a serious allegation because you are attacking somebody’s professional character, so you want to make sure you get it right. I think the discovery allegations, the lack of turning over discovery is a serious concern, both as a former prosecutor and now as a defense attorney. One of the most fundamental obligations as a prosecutor is to ensure you’re turning over discovery to the defense,” said Almonte.

Former federal prosecutor Robert Almonte II. (KSAT)

Almonte was part of the federal prosecution team in November that got a superseding indictment against Nate Paul, the Austin businessman tied to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his impeachment trial last year.

Asked about the language used in the motions accusing Harris and his prosecution team of intentional misconduct, LaHood told KSAT, “That’s not boilerplate language. That was very calculated and intentional language because we think it’s appropriate.”

Fourth mistrial

R.C. Curtis was charged with capital murder in connection with the 2015 killing of Paula Boyd.

A mistrial was granted for Curtis in November 2021, after a detective testified about cell phone records that both the defense and prosecution were previously unaware of.

A subsequent inspection of the case file found other evidence that had not been reviewed prior to the start of the trial.

Although the case fell outside the DA’s Civil Rights Division, Harris was assigned to it as prosecutor.

More than eight years after the violent death of Boyd, Curtis has yet to be retried in the case, court records show.

“A mistrial is really a recourse of last resort and it doesn’t usually happen. The defense usually doesn’t want to request a mistrial. And certainly, prosecutors don’t want a mistrial. A lot of work and effort goes into it from both sides and a mistrial usually doesn’t help anybody,” said Almonte.

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.

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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