Political interest groups having greater influence on criminal justice leaders, law expert says

‘We need to make sure that we’re punishing criminals and that we’re effectively removing them from the streets,’ commissioner says

SAN ANTONIO – There’s been a trend of district attorney offices influenced by political groups and nonprofits, according to a law professor at Texas A&M University School of Law.

Professor Cynthia Alkon said political groups and nonprofits are very engaged in what’s happening in our criminal legal system on all sides of the political spectrum.

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“In more recent years, district attorneys in a whole lot of communities have recognized that they do have broad discretionary power. There’s almost no check on the power that DAs have in terms of deciding what cases to file and how to file them,” Alkon said.

She said district attorney offices get a lot of feedback from different groups. But the same thing is happening to other offices of elected officials.

Social criminal reform changes are also a trend happening across the nation.

“What the DA’s job ultimately is to look at it as a big picture and think about what are the things that we can influence through the DA’s office that are going to help bring the whole community forward, which, of course, includes looking at crime rates, but it includes bigger issues, too,” Alkon said.

Bexar County Precinct 3 Commissioner Grant Moody said he doesn’t like the idea of an outside group influencing justice for local families.

“I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the DA and his deputies are engaging with, you know, an outside political group on these confidential cases,” he said. “And it begs the question: ‘Is an outside political group influencing prosecuting decisions here in Bexar County?’”

Moody said Bexar County District Attorneys are elected to follow the laws, not create social and political changes.

“We need to make sure that we’re punishing criminals and that we’re effectively removing them from the streets. And the agenda of transforming or reimagining criminal justice is not what citizens in Bexar County want,” Moody added.

KSAT reached out to Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai and the three other commissioners for comment on the working relationship Gonzales and his office have with an Austin-based group with links to a California nonprofit. They were unavailable for comment.

The San Antonio Police Department declined to comment on this story, and we are still waiting for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office to answer our request for comment.


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About the Authors

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.

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