Bexar County voters will elect a new district attorney when they go to the polls Nov. 6. The county’s next top prosecutor will either be Republican Tylden Shaeffer or Democrat Joe Gonzales.
Current DA Nico LaHood lost to Gonzales in the primary, while Shaeffer won the Republic bid unopposed.
Both candidates are defense attorneys who previously worked as prosecutors in the DA’s office.
At a candidate forum on Texas Public Radio’s call-in show “The Source” Thursday, Shaeffer and Gonzales answered questions about their positions on issues ranging from immigration to the death penalty.
Cite And Release
One area where they hold opposing viewpoints is San Antonio’s cite-and-release policy, which lets officers ticket county residents caught with less than 4 ounces of marijuana rather than arresting them.
Gonzales said he’s in favor of the policy because it gives people a second chance.
“Part of my whole progressive philosophy about restorative justice is to give people an opportunity to avoid convictions, avoid being straddled with having convictions on their records,” Gonzales said. “I intend to put some real teeth to the program so people don’t languish in jail.”
Shaeffer said he would allow officers to use their discretion when it comes to cite-and-release, but he’s not going to endorse it.
“I just don’t think that a DA needs to stand up and say ‘It’s okay to break the law. We’re just going to give you a slap on the wrist up front.’ I just think there has to be some consequences upfront,” Shaeffer said. “People have to learn that there are consequences to their actions.”
WATCH | Shaeffer and Gonzales live on 'The Source'
The candidates also have different stances on the death penalty.
Shaeffer said it’s necessary when “you see pure evil.”
“It’s a tool that the DA must use in the appropriate case. Period. This is something that I’m very familiar with because I tried two of these cases as a prosecutor and we did obtain death in both of those cases,” Shaeffer said.
Gonzales said he’s more likely to ask for life without parole.
“We have to believe that that person is a continuing threat to society (to ask for the death penalty),” Gonzales said. “And that’s why I’ve continued to say that while it’s something I reserve the right to use, for me death penalty is a case of last resort.”
White Collar Crimes
Asked by a caller whether or not he would put more attention on white collar crimes, Gonzales said he would have a unit dedicated to crimes such as embezzlement, but his focus would be on prosecuting violent crime.
“There is a need to allocate resources and focus our attention on especially sexual assault of children,” Gonzales said. “One of the reasons I decided to enter this race is because I saw a deficiency in how these cases were prepared.”
Shaeffer said he plans to focus on both white collar crimes and family violence such as domestic abuse.
“The white collar division has been whittled down to nothing,” Shaeffer said. “You have to beef that unit up and you have to prosecute these cases.”
Shaeffer also said he would change the philosophy of the family violence unit to put more attention on misdemeanor assaults so that they don’t “blossom into something worse.”
Shaeffer said he defines restorative justice as a process outside of court involvement.
“It’s been used as a term of, well quite frankly, being soft on crime, in my opinion,” Shaeffer said. “The mandate is to protect the public and seek justice.”
Gonzales, who has made restorative justice part of his campaign plank, said it’s a way to “restore that individual who committed a crime to the position that he was (in) before he was arrested.”
“When you have a typical drug case — possession of marijuana for example — there is no true victim,” Gonzales said. “Restorative justice steps in and says let’s be creative, let’s think outside the box and instead of putting this person (in) prison and throwing away the key, let’s see if he can continue to become a productive citizen.”
Both Shaeffer and Gonzales said immigration is outside their jurisdiction. But Gonzales said he was concerned about the “chilling effect” of SB 4, which allows local law enforcement to ask about immigration status.
“What’s going to happen is when an immigrant is a victim of crime, especially sexual assault, he or she is not going to come forward and report the crime for fear of being deported,” Gonzales said.
Shaeffer said it was inaccurate to blame hesitation to come forward on SB 4 because “witnesses have always been afraid.”
“The opponents of SB 4 want to characterize this as an issue that’s going to disenfranchise others in the community. The problem is this: we’ve always had this,” Shaeffer said. “This is a made up problem.”
Early voting begins Oct. 22. Election Day is Nov. 6.
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille