Bexar County’s Civil Rights Division moved one step closer to starting operations as District Attorney Joe Gonzales on Tuesday named Assistant District Attorney Daryl Harris as its lead prosecutor.

Gonzales announced the formation of the Civil Rights Division in October following months of protests against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd. The division will take on cases in which officers fire their weapon, someone dies in custody, or there are allegations of excessive use of force by police.

Harris, who has worked in the Bexar County District Attorney’s office since July 2002, has prosecuted misdemeanor and felony offenses and served as the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Trial Division and Chief of the Intake Division. Harris also served in the U.S. Army and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He also holds a master’s degree in operations research from Kansas State University and a law degree from St. Mary’s University. 

“I was looking for someone that had a combination of a wealth of experience – especially handling murder cases and other violent crimes – but also had the right temperament and the right passion for this job,” Gonzales said at a news conference. “And lo and behold, the best person for this position was in our backyard.”

Harris said he was honored to help grow the Civil Rights Division.

“I sought this position because like anybody in the country, you watch and you live these things,” he said. “A prosecutor, a trial lawyer, looks at it with an interest, a bit more than the lay citizen … and I also look at them from a citizen’s [viewpoint].

“I think I understand all aspects of these cases. And so the opportunity to play a role in making this thing work in the county that’s now my home, my family’s home – I just felt it was a calling. I hope to bring a commitment to vigorously, thoroughly, consistently pursue the truth.”

The Civil Rights Division has not started its work yet because Gonzales still wants to hire one more prosecutor. He estimated the final team member would be selected within the next 30 days. Gonzales had originally aimed to launch the division by Jan. 1, but the coronavirus pandemic hindered the hiring process, he said. Once fully formed, the division will have two prosecutors, one investigator, and one advocate. The Public Integrity Unit, formerly known as the Special Crimes Unit, will then forward relevant cases to the Civil Rights Division. 

There are currently 30 to 40 cases in the Public Integrity Unit that involve an officer discharging their weapon, Gonzales said, but not all of them will make it to the Civil Rights Division.

“If a particular case had been worked up by that previous division and they’ve done the lion’s share of the work, there’s no reason to hand this off to the new unit to create that work all over again,” Gonzales explained. “So those may be the kind of cases that they may hold on to, especially ones that are, let’s say, less controversial or straightforward shootings where maybe there isn’t an issue or much of an issue about the shooting itself.”

The Civil Rights Division will review law enforcement’s findings on each case assigned to it and do more investigation on its own if necessary. The division will then send its findings and recommendations to the district attorney.

Harris pledged he would investigate each case thoroughly with the knowledge that the outcome of cases that come across his desk often will not satisfy one or more parties involved.

“When a citizen is injured or, God forbid, killed at the hands of law enforcement, emotions are raw,” he said. “By definition, those things are never clear-cut. I understand that. I accept the fact that either side of that equation is going to be unhappy from one case to another. I accept that that’s the reality of the job.

“The only commitment and promise that I’ve told Joe I would make is that this section will always seek to do the harder right, instead of the easier wrong, in every case and then live with the consequences.”

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.