Texas Law Enforcement Officers’ Advocacy Group Responds to New Police Prosecution Unit

Texas Law Enforcement Officers’ Advocacy Group Responds to New Police Prosecution Unit

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

Texas law enforcement is asking questions after an advertisement from Travis County, Texas District Attorney José Garza was published seeking a civil rights team leader for the office located in Austin. According to the county’s website, Garza is “a former federal public defender, immigrant rights activist, and leader of the systemic change organization, Workers Defense Project, José Garza has a unique view into how our broken criminal justice system works and how it impacts our communities.” Apparently that’s code for “let’s go after police officers”.

Motives are suspect in the eyes of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, known as CLEAT after Assistant DA Trudy Strassburger reached out through her LinkedIn account, a social media platform of professionals, with a personal plea for activist prosecutors. In the post, she says “I am reaching out in the hopes that you may be looking to prosecute police officers or that you know someone who is! We need a heavy hitter”.

“What this really means is that the District Attorney in Travis County…has really been conflicted by personal opinion and personal beliefs” said Charlie Wilkison, CLEAT’s Executive Director. The subjective nature of Strassburger’s plea does not bode well for objectivity in the new position. The new hire will oversee a staff of three additional attorneys, an investigator, and a paralegal – a beefy organization to work on prosecutions from among the estimated 4,000 police officers in the county of 1.3 million people.

No one expects a district attorney to turn their back to unlawful police conduct. Police officers acting under color of law have no special privilege when they act outside of the Constitution and state statutes. Without the justification of defense of self or others, and a good faith lawful arrest, their actions are subject to civil and criminal liability. Presumably, these unlawful behaviors already come to the attention of the DA’s office. Why then, does Garza need a special unit to investigate and prosecute police officers, other than to cater to vocal anti-police factions?

CLEAT’s Wilkison is a professional advocate for its law enforcement members and is rightly asking the same accountability questions of the DA as citizens ask of the police – what are you doing, how are you doing it, and why are you doing it? Also in the job description is the responsibility of the new unit to be “responsible for maintaining a list of former or current law enforcement officers who will be placed on our “do not call” list because of concerns over their credibility.” This is a function of existing court rulings presumably already being enforced by prosecutors and examined carefully by criminal defense attorneys. The potential for abuse of such a list is massive because the definition of officer credibility is fluid and could be used to decimate the number of police officers with a narrow definition of credibility. A no-call list subverts the availability of the officer to be examined in court to establish their testimony’s value and will lead to more cases being dismissed before seeing the light of justice.

Some progressive prosecutors’ offices have specialized units to prosecute those who assault police officers. With increasing resistance to arrest, ambush, and violence against law enforcement officers it is more important than ever that police exert their rights as crime victims. The old idea that taking a blow to the head or getting a uniform destroyed is just part of the job is as wrong now as it ever was. And with prosecutors bent on persecuting police officers instead of protecting every victim’s rights and ensuring the safety of officers by prosecuting their attackers, law enforcement officers are fighting for justice for themselves along with their daily fight for justice for others.

Prosecutors and even defense attorneys for police officers have yet to fully employ the available science on human performance and physics in analyzing use of force cases. Most agencies and prosecutors are woefully inadequate in providing victim services, advocacy, and support for their police officers. If Garza wants to go after cops with a “heavy hitter”, let the facts speak for themselves with due process and action based on evidence, not currying political favor while ignoring the needs of officers being assaulted and ambushed. Austin is already facing increasing strain to keep up with calls for service as they have lost nearly 10% of their police staffing. That is what happens when anti-police activists gain power.