SAN ANTONIO – The fatal shooting of a combat veteran by a Bexar County sheriff’s deputy who was responding to a mental health call was apparently the last straw for Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff regarding the criminal justice system.
The county judge on Tuesday released a letter critical of the system that he said is “flawed” and needs to be “fixed.”
“Our criminal justice system is systematically flawed to the extent that it fails to administer justice to the poor, the homeless, minorities, and to the mentally ill and drug dependent citizens,” the letter stated.
Wolff has been very critical of the Aug. 25 shooting of Damian Daniels, who family members said served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Daniels was killed during a two-minute struggle with deputies. The victim’s brother, Brendan Daniels, said his brother had no criminal history, but he did have mental health issues. However, what led up the shooting was his “first mental episode," Brendan Daniels said. He also acknowledged that his brother had a gun tucked beneath his shirt, but also had a distorted look on his face.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar defended his deputies for the handling of the incident, saying he is confident deputies did everything in their power to avoid using deadly force before one of them opened fire on Daniels.
But Wolff disagreed with Salazar after reviewing the case.
“It may have been better to send crises mental health professionals rather than deputies with guns and uniforms," he said on Aug. 28. “Based on the information I have regarding the unfortunate death of Damian Lamar Daniels, I believe this incident should have never happened."
In Tuesday’s letter, Wolff outlined a number of ways he feels would repair the system:
- Address a number of police and deputy reforms, including use of force.
- Police and deputies should not take mentally ill and drug-addicted people who have committed non-violent offenses to jail.
- Texas Legislature needs to prohibit commercial or cash bonds for misdemeanor cases and instead allow personal recognizance bonds be issued under standards set by magistrates and pretrial services officers.
- Texas Legislature needs to pass a reasonable gun control law.
- Texas Legislature needs to change the way judges are elected.
Wolff ended the letter by saying that local and state governments need to implement reforms that he said would “make significant progress in establishing a justice system that will be fair to all, including the poor, the homeless, minorities, and the mentally ill and drug dependent citizens.”
You can read the letter below: