Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend of Texas | We Investigate

Local law enforcement reacts to DA’s immigrant prosecution policy

 

Almost six months ago, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez ordered his prosecutors to ignore or dismiss felony charges against defendants who are in this country illegally.

Gonzalez didn’t disclose the policy change to the public, judges and the sheriff’s department.

He says he made the change to save the taxpayers’ money, but some of the people who have to enforce the policy say it is a dangerous double standard.

Watch the full interview with District Attorney Mark Gonzalez here. 

It took effect on August 8, according to an internal email obtained by KRIS 6 News in which First Assistant District Attorney Matt Manning informed all prosecutors.

At the time, a prosecutor in the office described it as a double standard, according to a copy of  emails exchanged about the policy.

“It feels like we are holding American citizens responsible for their crimes and giving the undocumented folks a walk,” said a prosecutor, in response to the mandated change.

The reason the district attorney’s office won’t prosecute those crimes is simple:

“If they’re going to get deported, we want them out of here,” Gonzalez said. “And the reason being we don’t want to pay to keep them here.”

Gonzalez cited one case from July where the Nueces County Jail housed a man for 410 days while awaiting the results of a drug analysis.

According to Gonzalez, that time in jail cost taxpayers more than $33,000. The man was eventually deported. And it’s likely others in that situation will be, too, Gonzalez said.

That’s because once they’re in jail and that person’s immigration status has been determined, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will place hold on the defendant’s bail so that person cannot be released from jail, Gonzalez said.

The hold also is supposed to ensure that person is deported once the county’s criminal case is resolved, Gonzalez said.

“At the end of the day, I think we are doing what’s right, what’s efficient and what’s going to save the taxpayers money,” Gonzalez said. “If we can get them back to Mexico or Honduras or wherever they’re from, then by all means, we should do it immediately.”

Gonzalez says he does not know of any other cases his office had dismissed since the policy took effect, but said he didn’t think it would be more than one or two cases. He would research it, he added.

KRIS 6 News has filed a public information request asking for a list of all cases that were dismissed or no charges were filed since the new policy took effect. That request is pending with the Nueces County District Clerk’s office.

Asked if the new policy is a double standard, Gonzalez said:

“I say that, again, we turn to being prudent and not wasting the taxpayers dollar. If anyone has an argument with me trying to save $33,000, at least on this one instance on a gentleman who is getting deported, I guess I’ll take that heat and criticism.”

Back when the policy went into effect, a prosecutor in Gonzalez’ office raised concerns about public safety, and gave a specific scenario.

“A burglary crime is a non-violent crime, but I don’t want to be dismissing cases on burglars and then their federal detainer is released and they’re just back out on the street burglarizing another house or business,” the prosecutor said in an emailed response to the DA’s policy change. Gonzalez didn’t see that response, he said.

However, Gonzalez says that won’t be an issue because of the deportation charges.

Gonzalez also didn’t share the policy change with the Sheriff’s Office.

Nueces County Sheriff John C. Hooper says he didn’t know about the policy until KRIS 6 News called to ask about it.

Gonzalez said he kept the policy change inside the office because it “doesn’t affect law enforcement in any single way.”

But when asked about how that could affect jail operations, overseen by the sheriff, Gonzalez relented.

“I do owe them that, especially the sheriff,” Gonzalez said. “I definitely should have expressed this policy to him.”

In a response to the DA’s policy change, the Corpus Christi Police Department sent this statement:

“No one from our department received a copy of it. This memo doesn’t affect the way we do our job. We will still make arrests as need be. Maybe, someone at the DA’s office can provide you information.”

Jessica Savage

Jessica Savage

Award-winning investigative reporter who has worked in East Texas and South Texas.
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