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Nelson Wolff: ‘Criminal justice system is systematically flawed’

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff  says a “systematically flawed” criminal justice system failed military veteran Damian Daniels, who was shot and killed during a struggle with deputies last month.

In an open letter published in the Express News this past weekend, Wolff reiterated that Daniels’ death “should have never happened.”

August 24 and 25, deputies were called to Daniels’ West Bexar County home on Liberty Field.   The first day, they found him despondent and advised the family how to obtain a mental health warrant. The second day, the family called the American Red Cross, which in turn, called deputies.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has stated that three deputies responded and tried to calm Daniels down, but he had a gun under his t-shirt and a struggle ensued. Salazar says Daniels tried to reach for his gun and a deputy opened fire, killing him.

“Daniels had a right to have a gun at his residence, he did not have a criminal record, there was no warrant for his arrest, and no mental health order was issued to seize him,” said Wolff. “It may have been better to send mental health professionals instead of armed deputies in uniform.”

Wolff told KTSA News that the sheriff has a 16-member team of deputies assigned to a mental health unit with specialized training in addressing mental health issues.

“They don’t wear the typical sheriff’s uniform, so they’re not as threatening,” said Wolff. “They could have been sent out, but I think there might have been a communication problem.”

Wolff has requested that County Manager David Smith have the Mental Health
Department review the handling of this case and make recommendations for policy changes.  He also wants Smith to determine if the Mental Health
Department needs additional staff.  However, Wolff made it clear in an interview with KTSA News that the money would not come out of the sheriff’s budget.

“I have no desire to defund police like some people are talking about,” said Wolff.  “I think you need to fund your police and sheriff’s office adequately and we will do that, however there are elements of how you  respond to different issues.”

Wolff wants a mobile unit comprised of deputies and mental health professionals to send out on cases similar to Daniels’ situation.  He also said police and deputies should not take mentally ill and drug-addicted people who have committed nonviolent offenses to jail.  Instead, Wolff suggests that those individuals be
taken to the Center for Health Care Services’ (CHCDS) twenty-four-hour crisis care facility where medical, psychiatric, and social work professionals are located.

“Our criminal justice system is systematically flawed to the extent that it fails
to administer justice to the poor, the homeless, minorities, and to the mentally ill
and drug dependent citizens,” said Wolff.

Wolff also is calling for police and deputy reforms, including a requirement that all deputies wear cameras, the establishment of a civilian review board, implementation of new de-escalating non-lethal restraint policies, and requiring a psychological evaluation for deputies before they’re hired.

Wolff wants the Texas Legislature to prohibit commercial or cash bonds for
misdemeanor cases and instead, allow personal recognizance bonds under standards set by magistrates and pretrial services officers.

“Under our present system, the cash bail bond industry is favored over PR
bonds. The poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the drug addicted who are
thrown in jail for minor offenses have a hard time getting released because they
can’t make bail,” said Wolff.

He’s also calling on the Texas Legislature to pass gun control laws.

“The legislature should require enhanced background checks, pass red-flag laws,
ban sale of high-capacity magazines and close loopholes in protective order laws,” said Wolff.

The Bexar County Judge also recommends that the State Legislature change the way judges are elected.

“We’re only one of six states that still have partisan elections for judges,” said Wolff.  “A judge should be nonpartisan.”

 


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