Criminal justice reform group wields significant influence on DA Joe Gonzales, text records show

KSAT receives more than 200 pages of conversations between DA’s Office and the Wren Collective

SAN ANTONIO – What started as a news tip has led to the discovery of hundreds of emails and text messages between the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and an Austin-based criminal justice reform group.

KSAT in November of last year received a tip from a source asking us to investigate the relationship between the DA’s Office and a group called the Wren Collective, including conversations about specific cases and policies.

The Wren Collective’s website states it is a strategic advising firm made up of former public defenders that aims to “reimagine the way our country approaches criminal justice.”

District Attorney Joe Gonzales began talking to the collective days after he took office in January 2019, according to records obtained by KSAT through a public records request.

Since then, text and email messages between Wren and the D.A.’s office ranged from discussions about policy — including bail reform — to topics the office discussed in county meetings with other county officials.

Erik Cantu case

One conversation, beginning in Oct. 2022, centered around the Erik Cantu shooting. Cantu was at a McDonald’s parking lot when he was shot by SAPD Officer James Brennand.

In the messages, First Assistant District Attorney Christian Henricksen and Jessica Brand, the co-founder of the Wren Collective, discussed the case.

Henricksen explained how the DA’s office would quickly drop all charges Cantu had pending before he was shot.

“We got an indictment on the Erik Cantu case. Thanks for the help from you & the team,” Henricksen wrote in a text message on Dec. 1, 2022.

Other conversations mention discussions of press releases, op-eds and talking points being written for Gonzales by the Wren Collective.

Gonzales reached out to them about talking points regarding the migrant flights orchestrated by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, sharing details about conversations he had with Sheriff Javier Salazar on the issue.

Last September, Gonzales advised Brand to continue all future conversations on his personal email rather than his work email.

KSAT spoke by phone with members of several past district attorney administrations to see if they worked with outside strategic advisors and we were told they did not.

It does not appear that any taxpayer money has been used to pay for the consultations. In fact, a records request indicated there were no payments at all made from the D.A.’s office to the Wren Collective.

Gonzales was not available for an interview on Tuesday about the conversation, but we were told he would sit down with us at a later date.

We emailed the Wren Collective to inquire about their relations with the DA’s Office but haven’t heard back.

Watch Gonzales on the KSAT Q&A:

About the Authors

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.

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.

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