A native of San Antonio, Texas, Jose Garza graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001 with a B.A. degree in Government. He subsequently earned a J.D. degree from the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law in 2005.
September 2005 to May 2006, Garza worked as a Law Fellow for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. He then spent most of 2006-2008 as an Assistant Public Defender for the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid program, and as an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Texas from 2008-2010. A decade later, a Garza political campaign website stated that it was during his years as a Public Defender that Garza initially “saw first hand the impact our broken criminal justice system has on people of color, working people and poor people, and immigrant families.”
Garza relocated to Washington, D.C. in 2010 to begin working as Deputy General Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor. In 2011, he became Special Counsel for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs with the National Labor Relations Board. In 2013, Garza began serving as a Senior Policy Advisor within the Obama Administration for then-Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. He later became Executive Director of the Workers Defense Project, a self-described “community organization for low-wage, immigrant workers in the Texas construction industry… [standing] alongside these workers as they fight for their right to be paid a living wage and be protected in their work.”
In June 2019, Garza announced his hope to unseat incumbent Travis County, Texas District Attorney Margaret Moore in the 2020 Democratic primary. Travis County was one of the most politically liberal counties in all of Texas and was home to the state capital of Austin, a leftwing stronghold. Following the primary election on March 3, 2020, Garza led Moore by a margin of 44.3% to 41.1%. The close vote count forced a primary runoff election in July, in which Garza trounced Moore by a margin of 68% to 32% and secured the Democratic nomination for Travis County DA.
Garza’s dominant performance over Moore was fueled in large measure by more than $650,000 in campaign donations from leftist multibillionaire George Soros, who funneled his contributions to Garza’s campaign through the Texas Justice and Public Safety PAC (TJPS-PAC), which flooded print, broadcast, and media with professionally produced campaign ads in support of Garza. Established by Soros in 2018, TJPS-PAC was part of a larger “Safety and Justice” network used by Soros to elect leftist district attorney candidates nationwide. In response to the Garza campaign’s enormous expenditures on advertising, the Moore campaign said: “The amount of money being poured into the district attorney’s race is alarming and abhorrent. Local elections should be decided by people from this community, free from the crushing influence of outside spending by PACs that are not accountable to this county.”
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Garza, in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus inside the walls of local prisons, called for Travis County to release inmates — hundreds of them — who were deemed unlikely to return to criminality if set free. He also urged police officers to discontinue arrests and filings for misdemeanors and state jail felonies except in cases where defendants were thought to pose a significant criminal threat to the public.
A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Garza ran for District Attorney on a firm leftist platform. Some key planks of that platform, taken verbatim from Garza’s campaign website, included the following:
(1) Our criminal justice system weighs most heavily on working-class people and people of color — it doesn’t have to bet that way.
- We Will Not Keep People In Jail Just Because They’re Poor: As District Attorney, I will advocate to end cash bail in Travis County. No Person should be held in our jail because they can’t afford to buy their way out.
- We Will Treat Substance Abuse As the Public Health Crisis It Is: Unless there is evidence that a person poses a danger to the community, I will not prosecute sale or possession of a gram or less of narcotics.
- We Will Expand Diversion Programs: Our office will expand eligibility for diversion programs, and we will take away impediments to participation so more people can be successful in the programs.
- We Will Treat Kids Like Kids: As District Attorney, I will oppose transferring children to the adult [criminal-justice] system. I will also advocate for home-based alternatives to detention for kids.
- We Will Protect Immigrant Communities in Our County: The job of the prosecutor is to ensure that justice is delivered equally, regardless of place of birth. We will create a DA’s office that considers the impact of charges and convictions for families and communities, and ensures that the sentence imposed is not unduly harsh for any class of people [who may be legally deportable if convicted].
(2) We can restore trust in our District Attorney’s office by ensuring that our criminal justice system reflects the values of our community.
- We Will Pursue Restorative Justice: Travis County deserves to have a robust restorative justice program, and we will partner with interested stakeholders to create one here. […]
- We Will Hold Police Officers Accountable for Misconduct: Prosecutors must play a key role in holding police accountable and ensuring that officers who commit misconduct are not allowed to continuously harm communities.
(3) Together, we will reimagine justice in Travis County.
- We Will Not Withhold Information from Those We Prosecute: My office will adopt an open file discovery policy that will apply after arrest allowing people accused of crimes to make fully-informed decisions every step of the way.
- We Will Not Rely on Civil Asset Forfeiture Without a Conviction: Unless there has been a conviction in a case, my office will return the property.
- We Will Never Seek The Death Penalty: The Death Penalty is morally and ethically wrong, does not serve as a deterrent, has proven to be applied arbitrarily at best, and comes at tremendous financial costs.
- We Will Believe All People Have Value and Can Change: We will work to ensure that those we lock up are incarcerated for as short as is needed to protect our communities and support those who have reformed themselves in returning home. Excessive sentences with little to no chance of release on the horizon do not actually keep us safe; it just leads to countless people who are no longer a danger to society in our jails and prisons. By the time individuals reach their thirties, their odds of committing future crimes drop dramatically […] Accordingly, asking for any sentence longer than 20 years will be the exception. Also, my office will advocate for the release of all parole eligible people in prison over the age of 50 who no longer pose a danger to the community. Lastly, we will proactively seek out those our office has incarcerated who have been rehabilitated to assist them with returning to the community.
Among the notable individual and organizational supporters of Garza’s campaign for Travis County DA were: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joaquin Castro, Julian Castro, Real Justice PAC, LiUNA, UNITEHere Local 23, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, the Austin Democratic Socialists of America, the Center for Popular Democracy, Texas Rising, and the Working Families Party.
In the general election of November 3, 2020, Garza secured almost 70% of the vote in defeating his Republican opponent, Martin Harry. He officially took office as Travis County DA on January 1, 2021.
Within his first few weeks on the job, Garza aggressively pursued indictments of officers in the Austin Police Department. In some instances, the targeted officers had already been cleared of any wrongdoing, but Garza nevertheless reopened their cases or filed new charges against them. In one particular 2019 incident that had occurred before Garza took office, two Travis County officers used physical force while arresting one of two individuals who had been caught engaging in a narcotics exchange. Even after an internal investigation determined that the officers in question had done nothing wrong, Garza decided to bring forth new felony assault charges against them. In response to Garza’s crackdown on police, the Austin Police Association later stated: “District Attorney Garza believes his sole role is to prosecute officers. Instead of going after violent criminals who continue to terrorize our city, he uses his time to maliciously prosecute these officers in an attempt to gain political favor from the activist community that he seeks to serve.”
In March 2021, Garza participated in a virtual event titled “Stop AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] Hate.” “There are so many members of our communities of color and from immigrant communities who have, from my perspective, rightfully lost trust in law enforcement,” said Garza regarding the theme of the event. “. . . When communities feel like they can’t report crimes, that they can’t participate in investigations, that makes all of us less safe.”
In late April 2021, Garza’s office released a report detailing how the new administration would prosecute various types of criminal cases. Below are some key excerpts, extracted directly from the report:
(1) Bail: Those who have committed heinous crimes and are a danger to the community should remain in custody pending trial. But we must work to ensure that it is not just the wealthy who are given an opportunity to be released when they are not a danger to the community. While we cannot set bail ourselves, we will follow our bail statute and we will be using this analysis to recommend bail to the Judges who will make the final determination:
- We will not consider a person who is an attendance risk, meaning they have missed court in the past but have not attempted to evade the police, a flight risk.
- For anyone charged with a State Jail Felony, there will be a presumption of release with no conditions if it is determined that the person poses no threat to community safety or risk of flight.
- For anyone charged with a higher-level felony, there will be a presumption of release with the least restrictive condition necessary to ensure that the person is not a risk to the community or risk of flight.
- Anyone who poses a future risk of harm to our community or a risk of a flight that cannot be addressed by conditions other than pre-trial incarceration should remain in custody.
(2) Discovery/Brady: We should be as open and forthright with discovery and Brady as possible. If we are in possession of offense reports or other materials pre-indictment, and there is not a legitimate law enforcement reason not to give it to defense, we should make it available regardless of whether there has been a defense request.
(3) Sentencing: Over the past forty years, criminal sentencing has become increasingly disconnected from promoting public safety. The result is a massive system of incarceration which research reveals serves little measurable crime-reducing purpose and causes substantial harm to the individuals, family members, and communities it affects. The Travis County District Attorney’s office must play a central role in reorienting criminal sentencing in ways that strengthen the social fabric of our community and advance public safety. This set of plea guidelines will help Assistant District Attorneys by providing direction for how to charge and resolve their cases. To responsibly reduce over-incarceration, and the substantial negative effect it has on public safety, criminologists, researchers, and scholars have suggested a number of key sentencing reforms to address mass incarceration going forward. They include:
- Utilize minimum mandatory penalties, habitual offender sentencing enhancements, and other extreme mandatory punishments only when there is an articulable public safety reason to do so.
- Impose Jail or Prison sentences for drug and other victimless offenses only when there is a public safety reason to do so.
- Utilize community supervision rather than incarceration whenever possible. The length of probation terms should be no longer than necessary to achieve the goal of probation, which is generally about two years.
- Only punish violations of probation with incarceration when there is a direct connection to a legitimate community safety risk.
- Impose prison sentences that have an evidence-based connection to public safety and reducing recidivism.
- Age should matter in criminal sentencing, and individuals under the age of 35 or 40 should never be imprisoned without parole considerations, regardless of the offense or conviction.
Crime rates in Austin rose significantly after Garza took office as Travis County DA. Between January and April 2021, for instance, 27 homicides took place in the city – a 200% increase over the 9 homicides that had occurred during those same months in 2017. Similarly, there were 1,034 aggravated assaults in Austin between January and April 2021 — up 27% from the 815 in the same time period during 2017. And there were 1,199 car thefts in Austin between January and April 2021 — a 77% increase above the 677 in the same time period during 2017.
The rising crime trend in Austin continued throughout 2021. By September 12, the city’s homicide total for the year had reached 60 — more than in any other of the 61 calendar years for which Austin police had kept such records. By contrast, Austin had averaged just 34 homicides per year from 2010-2019.
In the spring of 2021, Garza sparked controversy with his handling of a case involving a longtime violent felon named David Olmos, who previously had been convicted of eight separate felonies. The most recent of those was a February 2019 conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon – a conviction that earned Olmos a five-year prison sentence from which he was eventually given early release in November 2020, with the stipulation that he remain on parole until October of 2023. But on April 2, 2021, Olmos, while still on parole, evaded arrest in southeast Texas car chase in which police and troopers pursued him into Travis County, where he was apprehended and found to be illegally in possession of a handgun and methamphetamine. But just four days later — on April 6, 2021 — Olmos was released from jail on a personal bond which stipulated that he be required to wear a GPS ankle monitor at all times. But before long, Olmos removed the monitor from his leg, carjacked a vehicle, and proceeded to commit 10 robberies in 10 days across greater Austin before being arrested again on May 25, 2021.
In early July 2021, Travis County Assistant DA Ariane Flores resigned from her job after Garza’s office asked her to delete emails and work-product notes that she and a Victim Witness Counselor had transmitted to one another regarding a case involving a defendant who had been charged with committing aggravated sexual assault upon a child in June 2021. Flores stated that she felt compelled to resign because of repeated demands from Garza’s office to have her destroy the aforementioned pieces of evidence, as well as one instance of what she perceived to be a credible threat from Garza’s office. Meanwhile, other employees in the DA’s office anonymously told reporters that since Garza’s election, a “culture of fear” had developed vis-à-vis speaking out against such corrupt practices in their workplace.
Ms. Flores’ resignation came during a period when Garza’s DA office was the subject of significant criticism. As SaveAustinNowPAC noted in July 2021, “Dozens of … violent suspects have been released early as the DA has applied a new approach to convictions that may be contributing to a surge in violent and property crime across Austin.” In one particular incident, two individuals who were suspects in a recent mass shooting in Austin were released from jail with no charges filed against them — even after camera footage showed them both holding firearms at the scene of the shooting. The family members of Douglas Kantor, the lone individual who had been killed in that shooting, stated that they had “no faith” in Garza’s handling of the investigation. Kantor’s brother lamented that, in his view, Garza and his prosecutorial team “are not prosecuting violent criminals anymore.”
In August 2021, it was reported that the Austin Police Department’s leading homicide detective, David Fugitt, was accusing Garza’s DA office of having engaged in criminal witness tampering as it sought to indict Army Sgt. Daniel Perry on murder charges. PJ Media spells out the details of the incident in question:
“On the night of July 25, 2020, a group of protesters illegally took over an intersection in downtown Austin. They approached a car as it was trying to make its way past the crowd through the intersection. One of the protesters, Garrett Foster, was carrying a loaded AK-47 rifle. As Foster approached the car in the darkness that night, apparently pointing the rifle at the driver, the driver, Army Sgt. Daniel Perry, fired his handgun in Foster’s direction from his car. Foster was killed. At least one other protester fired at Perry as he drove away. Perry was later stopped by Austin police and questioned about the shooting. He reportedly told the officers he fired in self-defense as Foster approached with his rifle pointed at him, as photos taken at the scene indicate. Texas castle law extends to one’s car and allows the use of deadly force in self-defense if the driver believes his or her life is in danger. Perry is a concealed handgun permit carrier, indicating a clean criminal record. He was driving for Uber on the night of the shooting and was released after questioning. […] By the time the shooting occurred, numerous Americans had been surrounded, threatened, and even shot by BLM and other protesters in their vehicles, including within Austin, where protesters had attempted to take over the police headquarters a month earlier. Protesters had removed some drivers from their cars and assaulted them.”
Detective Fugitt, who was investigating the Daniel Perry case nearly a year later, stated in a sworn affidavit:
“Prior to the grand jury presentation in this case, I had several conversations with the District Attorney’s Office regarding the presentation of exculpatory evidence related to Daniel Perry. It became clear to me that the District Attorney’s Office did not want to present evidence to the grand jury that would be exculpatory to Daniel Perry and/or to show that witness statements obtained by the family of Garrett Foster and/or their attorneys were inconsistent with prior interviews such ‘witnesses’ gave the police and/or the video of the incident in question. […]
“On more than one occasion I was directed by the Travis County Attorney’s Office to remove exculpatory information that I had intended to present to the grand jury during my testimony. At that point, I specifically asked if there would be ‘ramifications’ if I did not do so. I was told by Assistant District Attorney Guillermo Gonzalez that he would ask the elected District Attorney, Jose Garza, what would happen if I refused to agree to the limitations I was being ordered to comply with. I was later sent an email simply reaffirming the exculpatory subjects that I was forbidden from mentioning during my testimony. Of my original 158-slide [P]owerpoint presentation, the presentation was reduced to 56 slides with almost all of the exculpatory evidence ordered removed. I felt like I did not have any other options but to comply with their orders. […]
“I firmly believe the District Attorney’s Office, acting under the authority of Jose P. Garza, tampered with me as a witness. Often witness tampering is subtle. In this case, there were foreseeable consequences if I did not comply and tailor my grand jury presentation as directed and failure to do so would adversely affect my working relationship with the District Attorney’s Office for the foreseeable future. I was afforded no choice but to comply with the directives that were issued to me by Jose Garza through his assistants. I am familiar with the crime of witness tampering as set out in the Texas Penal Code and under the circumstances believe myself to be a victim of such tampering.”
On February 17, 2022, Garza’s office indicted 19 Austin police officers on serious felony charges — including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon — for their handling of rioters and protesters who had violently stormed the streets of Travis County in the Black Lives Matter eruptions that swept the country after the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Former U.S. attorney Joe Brown, who had spent two decades as a Republican District Attorney in North Texas, said: “This is really unprecedented, to my knowledge. To allege that there was criminal intent by that many police officers, who were operating in a chaotic and unpredictable environment and assumedly pursuant to policy and how they had been trained, is really remarkable.”