Emails reveal Wren Collective had hands in more than just ‘messaging’ in Bexar Co. DA’s Office

More than 400 pages of emails between DA Joe Gonzales and Wren Collective show conversations about policy and SAPD Chief William McManus

SAN ANTONIO – Over the past month, KSAT 12 has been investigating the relationship between the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and the Wren Collective, a criminal justice reform group based out of Austin.

KSAT 12 originally unearthed hundreds of pages of text messages between Gonzales, his staff and the founder of the Wren Collective, Jessica Brand, through a public information request.

Now, we’ve obtained more than 400 pages of emails between Brand and Gonzales’ personal email that suggest Brand played a larger role at the DA’s office than Gonzales has admitted.

Since our first report on Jan. 30, Gonzales has stated the Wren Collective only provides messaging and talking points to him.

On Feb. 20 Gonzales doubled down on that response when asked about his relationship during a Bexar County Commissioner’s Court meeting.

Gonzales answered, “I will tell you, and I will tell this entire court that nobody makes decisions outside my office. I’m the one that makes those ultimate decisions. Nobody has any influence other than having had some messaging recommendations.”

KSAT 12 reached out to the District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Pete Gallego for comment on the emails but have not heard back.

‘Attached are a few policies’

The records show that on March 20, 2019, the same year Gonzales took office, Brand — who was part of another third-party group called The Justice Collaborative — sent an email stating:

“Attached are a few policies: A Conviction Integrity Unit policy, a combined declination/diversion policy for both drugs and non drugs, and the bail policy. The diversion policy is almost entirely prosecutor led - you’ll also see that we pulled some data and it could have quite an impact on the justice system in Bexar County. Next week, we should have probation, immigration and a proposed intake policy for you.”

In the diversion policy, the email suggests the DA’s Office should not prosecute low-level offenses. That’s something Gonzales enacted until a new state law — the ‘Rogue Prosecutor” law — forced Gonzales to change course.

Also known as House Bill 17, that law allows courts to remove district attorneys for misconduct if they choose not to pursue certain types of crimes.

In other emails, district attorneys from across the country were also included with the Wren Collective. One of those was Travis County DA Jose Garza, who is facing a petition to remove him from office under the so-called Rogue Prosecutor law.

Another email included a Word document. It is unclear who wrote the document or when it was sent, but it talks about San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.

In part, it says:

“San Antonio Police Chief William McManus went before the city council and used a lazy but tried-and-true method of scare-tactic politics: he blamed criminal justice reform for rising homicides.”

“His shameless political grandstanding only distracts from providing meaningful solutions to serious problems.”

“Perhaps McManus hopes that by scaring the community and blaming homicides on other people’s work, we will ignore the fact that his department is simply bad at solving serious crime.”


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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