Protesters hold a sign that says "Damian Lamar Daniels" at a Black Lives Matter protest in front of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and Detention Center on Wednesday.
Black Lives Matters activists protest in front of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office on Aug. 26. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

On Aug. 24, deputies responded to a call from Damian Lamar Daniels and his family over Daniels’ state of mental health. Deputies went to his house, found him despondent, and provided the family with information on accessing a mental health warrant.

The following day, Aug. 25, three deputies responded to a call from the Red Cross regarding Daniels. When they went to his home, a confrontation broke out and Daniels, who had a gun under his shirt, was shot two times in the chest and killed.

After a review of the information on Aug. 28, I stated that this incident should have never happened. 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. I stated that it may have been better to send mental health professionals instead of armed deputies in uniform.

The sheriff had access to mental health professionals from the Bexar County Center for Health Care Services as well as 16 deputies assigned to a mental health unit with specialized training in addressing mental health issues.

County Manager David Smith, at my request, has assigned the Mental Health Department the task of conducting a review of the handling of this case and make recommendations for policy changes. He will also determine if the Mental Health Department needs additional staff.

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.

First, we need to address a number of police and deputy reforms, including use of force. On July 16, Commissioners Court instructed county staff to include in a new collective bargaining agreement with the deputy union the following: establishment of a civilian review board, that all deputies wear cameras, new de-escalating nonlethal restraint policies, a psychological evaluation before hiring, and removal of “protectionist clauses” that exceed civil service legislation.

Second, police and deputies should not take mentally ill and drug addicted
people who have committed nonviolent offenses to jail. Individuals should be
taken to the Center for Health Care Services’ (CHCDS) 24-hour crisis care
facility, where medical, psychiatric, and social work professionals are located.

Third, the Texas Legislature needs to prohibit commercial or cash bonds for
misdemeanor cases and instead allow personal recognizance (PR) bonds be issued
under standards set by magistrates and Pretrial Services officers. Our PR bond
policy requires individuals to report to a pretrial bond officer. If a PR bond is
granted, these individuals can work, pay rent, support their family, and pay child
support.

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. Unless they meet stringent conditions of eligibility for PR bonds set
by the state, they are held in jail. For example, if you are homeless and have no
address, you are not eligible for a PR bond.

To offset the failure of the Legislature to act, the Commissioners Court has
taken numerous steps to address the issue of mental health and drug addiction. In
2001, my first year as county judge, we established our first drug court. Since then,
we have expanded to 14 therapeutic courts that include mental health courts, a
veterans court, a DWI court, and additional drug courts.

We also created the Office of Criminal, Policy, Planning and Programs and
the Public Defender’s Office to represent indigent defendants, contracted with
CHCS for mental health clinicians, staffed the jail with over 100 health care
professionals, and created a restoration program to help build a pathway for
inmates who have served their time.

Fourth, the Texas Legislature needs to pass a reasonable gun control law.
The Legislature should require enhanced background checks, pass red-flag laws,
ban sale of high-capacity magazines, and close loopholes in protective order laws.

Fifth, the Legislature needs to change the way judges are elected. Under our
present system, Texas judges are subject to the political power of the bail bond
industry, criminal defense lawyers, and partisan politics. The Texas Legislature
should establish high qualifications for judicial candidates, who should either be
appointed or run in a nonpartisan election with limits on donations.

We all need to work together to fix our flawed criminal justice system. It
will require state and local government to put in place needed reforms. If so, we
will make significant progress in establishing a justice system that will be fair to
all, including the poor, the homeless, minorities, and the mentally ill and drug-dependent citizens.

Nelson Wolff

Nelson Wolff

Nelson W. Wolff is Bexar County Judge.