Bexar County DA Gonzales defends $9K per year car allowance, despite routinely being driven by security detail

Gonzales and his personal attorneys falsely accuse KSAT of recording footage of his home

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has continued to collect a $9,000 yearly car allowance despite repeatedly being driven around by members of his security detail, public records and footage gathered by KSAT Investigates show.

The allowance, which amounts to around $750 a month, has been in place since Gonzales took office in 2019, meaning he has collected around $50,000 since being sworn in nearly five and a half years ago, records show.

Gonzales defended accepting the money in a tense interview with KSAT last month, saying there is no county rule that regulates or prohibits the amount of executive protection he has.

Over several weeks, beginning on March 4, KSAT Investigates repeatedly captured footage of Gonzales arriving to work at the Bexar County Justice Center while being driven by members of his security detail.

KSAT did not see Gonzales driving himself in his personal vehicle at any point until shortly after we reached out for an interview for this story.

A DA spokesman and attorneys claiming to serve as legal counsel to Gonzales have all told KSAT that threats against the DA’s life have required him to be driven by his executive security detail from time to time.

None of the individuals, however, have addressed the DA’s decision to continue collecting the car allowance for periods of time when he is not driving.

‘Why are any local government officials receiving allowances in the first place?’

“There’s some substance to be concerned about here,” Texas Public Policy Foundation policy director James Quintero said. “That’s a fairly healthy amount to spend on a car that I think ought to concern most taxpayers, a lot of whom can’t afford gas, groceries and rent right now.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative, Austin-based think tank, created a metric to track population and inflation growth versus property tax increases in major Texas counties from 2018 to 2022.

James Quintero said data compiled by the Texas Public Policy Foundation shows Bexar County is among the major Texas counties overtaxing its residents. (KSAT)

Property taxes levied by Bexar County rose nearly eight percent faster than population and inflation during that time, the data shows.

“Out of which you see shenanigans like this,” Quintero said. “We really have to get to the point where we’re asking, ‘Why are any local government officials receiving allowances in the first place?’ For most of us, we use our salary for cars and housing and cell phones.”

Gonzales among 39 DA employees eligible for car allowance

As of April 1, Gonzales was among 39 employees of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office eligible for a car allowance, public records show.

A vast majority of the employees on the list work as DA investigators. Gonzales is the only employee eligible for a car allowance who earns an annual salary of over $100,000, the records show.

James Quintero, policy director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, speaks with Dillon Collier in Austin. (KSAT)

“Look, no one’s saying that we shouldn’t pay our public servants adequately, but there is a threshold beyond which it gets a bit ridiculous. And I think we’re here in that circumstance,” Quintero said.

Gonzales defends car allowance

Gonzales declined multiple requests from KSAT to sit down for an interview for this story.

DA spokesman Pete Gallego, instead, released the following written statement:

“In today’s polarized society, it is common for elected officials at all levels of government to maintain a personal security detail. This is especially true of a District Attorney who is responsible for the prosecution of dangerous criminals, including members of gangs and cartels. Unfortunately, our District Attorney has received numerous credible death threats related to his personal safety. His protective detail determines whether a threat is legitimate and decides as to those periods of time when he should be escorted. For his own safety and security, District Attorney Joe Gonzales relies on the determinations made by his protective detail because they are specially trained law enforcement officers that make these decisions.”

After KSAT informed Gallego his statement did not address Gonzales continuing to collect a car allowance despite getting rides from his security detail, the spokesman responded via email, “DA Joe Gonzales receives an auto allowance because he uses his personal vehicle for work, and during periods of heightened security threats he is required to be driven by a member of the DA’s armed security detail.”

A follow-up letter sent by Gallego days later to KSAT’s general manager requested that KSAT redact any of its videos that identify the location of the DA’s personal residence.

No such video exists.

‘I don’t work for Dillon Collier. I don’t work for KSAT.’

Last month, KSAT attempted to speak to Gonzales after he arrived to work in his personal vehicle.

A member of the DA’s security detail, who had moments earlier been engaging in horseplay with a second member of the security detail while standing near the parking lot, jumped into the passenger side of Gonzales’ vehicle and the DA drove off.

Gonzales eventually turned around and both he and the member of his security detail told KSAT the DA had been on the phone.

Gonzales parked and agreed to finally answer questions from KSAT.

Collier: So I understand the heightened security and the need for the security detail. But the just flatly taking the $9,000 a year, I mean, isn’t that something where some of that should go back if you’re getting a ride everywhere for weeks on end, which is what we have footage of?

DA Gonzales: Well, it’s not getting a ride. You’re making it sound like these gentlemen are Uber drivers. This is my emergency protection, my executive protection. I’ve had several death threats beginning the start of my administration. And so, the investigators recommend and make the decisions when and where I need escort to and from my home and at events.

Gonzales then pointed out that he had driven his personal vehicle to work that day. After KSAT said its footage showed he started to use his vehicle for work again after the station had reached out for an interview for this story, Gonzales responded that he has used his own vehicle since starting as DA.

“Particularly, for example, like COVID. I was driving myself in practically every day, when my staff was at home. There are other events. I’m the DA 24/7, so there are certainly events where I use my vehicle after hours as part of my job,” said Gonzales.

The DA declined to discuss how often his security detail drives him, calling it a “security matter.”

“I think the public would understand that I’m the only county official that makes decisions that are literally life and death. We send people to prison. What happens every day at this courthouse doesn’t make a lot of people happy and because of that I have been targets of multiple death threats. We actually had to lock down my home for a period of several days because one of those individuals that had threatened to kill me actually figured out where I live. So that’s the level of security that I have to live with and that’s why we have this combination that I use,” said Gonzales.

After we informed Gonzales that KSAT had not recorded footage of his home, Gonzales responded that Gallego’s letter was “based on an anticipation of the kind of stories” KSAT broadcasts about his agency.

Gonzales went on to criticize KSAT’s past coverage of him and his office, including a 2023 investigation of the county’s pretrial diversion program.

The investigation revealed some defendants given pretrial diversion repeatedly reoffended after landing dismissals, or in some instances, had their cases reopened after failing to complete the program.

“I gave you a 15-minute interview and talked about all the positive things about pretrial diversion and you ran five seconds and covered three people of the many people involved in pretrial diversion,” said Gonzales.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales speaks with KSAT last month. (KSAT)

Gonzales also took issue with a 2023 investigation by KSAT in which former employees of the DA’s office described a “hostile and toxic” work environment hampered by harassment and a lack of communication and accountability.

The remarks were made in resignation letters and exit interviews obtained by KSAT Investigates through a public records request.

“There were 47 interviews and you focused on three out of 47,” said Gonzales.

Collier: We don’t do stories on planes that land at the airport. We do the stories on the planes that crash.

DA Gonzales: But you know what’s wrong with that? When you report that the crash is because of pilot error and it’s not. That’s when it’s unfair.

The DA added that he felt he was unfairly portrayed in the story.

KSAT then directed the conversation back to the topic of the car allowance.

DA Gonzales: Well, the point is, I am driving my car and here’s the other thing you have to understand: I work for the citizens of Bexar County. I don’t work for Dillon Collier. I don’t work for KSAT.

Collier: I am a citizen of Bexar County. You do work for me.

DA Gonzales: Well, you are one of two million people and if you don’t like how I’m doing my job then when reelection comes along, guess what, you can show up and you can vote for my opponent.

Gonzales then steered the conversation back to KSAT’s coverage of his agency, claiming the station has not covered “the highest conviction rate on murders that we’ve had in 13 years” or the “highest felony DWI conviction that we’ve had in years.”

“Y’all reported about the backlog. You’re not reporting that we reduced the backlog by 22%,” said Gonzales, referring to his High Risk Intake Team formed last fall to tackle a backlog of criminal cases.

KSAT, in fact, reported last month that the backlog of cases had been reduced by 22%.

The May 9 story from reporter Erica Hernandez included the line: “According to the DA’s Office, as of May 6, 2024, the backlog of cases stood at 4,945, which is a reduction of about 22%, short of Gonzales’ goal.”

“How come you guys don’t ever make an effort to report positive stories? That’s my frustration with you guys,” said Gonzales.

A week after KSAT’s extended interview with Gonzales, two attorneys representing him emailed the station’s general manager separately.

They both falsely accused the station of gathering footage of the DA’s home and raised new concerns about the footage gathered by KSAT showing Gonzales in his personal vehicle, entering the county’s executive parking lot.

One of the attorneys cited sections of the Texas Public Information Act that allow public entities to withhold releasing the personal information of law enforcement officers, including district attorneys.

The exemptions to the release of information, however, do not prohibit KSAT or other media outlets from reporting on issues of legitimate public concern.

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.

Dale Keller is senior news photographer at KSAT-12.

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