When he took on the position of district attorney, Armando Barrera knew the road would be a challenge. He said this week that he was in no way surprised by what he found when he came into office on Jan. 1, and in no way was he intimidated by the amount of cases left behind.
Barrera inherited 558 cases from the previous administration.
“There are several different cases, with some individual names you’ll see many times,” Barrera said while thumbing through the thick stack of case listings. “They’re already divided up. We’re doing probably 10 a week for each attorney, working on the 558, plus the new cases coming in.”
Along with previous cases to prepare for the grand jury, Barrera’s staff is preparing cases for trials, and receiving cases from local law enforcement on recent incidents that have occurred this month.
Barrera described the work as a three-pronged attack.
The key comes in preparation, he said. Barrera worked actively with local law enforcement agencies prior to taking office and reviewed with officers what he expected from offense reports and investigative information. Every new case that comes into the district attorney’s office starts with a face-to-face meeting between Barrera and the agency investigator. Together they run through a checklist of elements that must be in place prior to Barrera taking the case before the grand jury.
“We’re working with police to assist them in preparing a good, solid offense report. Our policy is that we’re not going to take a case to the grand jury unless it’s ready to go to trial,” Barrera said. “We can’t assume that the case is going to be delayed once (an individual) is indicted. We’re going to be prepared.”
Cases lacking elements are sent back, so that the officers can remedy those areas, he said. Once the cases are accepted by the district attorney’s office each case is delegated to an assistant district attorney, an investigator and a secretary.
Barrera said he is enthusiastic with his team, which includes assistant district attorneys John Lemon, Homero Canales and Rumaldo Soliz Jr. along with investigators Tony Vera, Adan Caro and Jaime Garza. Barrera said their job is to restore confidence with the community and with area law enforcement, which will be based on their ability to take these cases to trial and succeed.
“We have trial lawyers, and they’re hard workers,” Barrera said. “I am co-counsel in every case and we talk about every case. That’s how we’re going to approach the situation in Brooks and Jim Wells County. We’re going to be ready.”
Barrera said the goal is to protect the community, and they are determined to do that. He said he intends to put people away that need to be put away.
The district’s attorney’s office is also focused on the juvenile crime problems facing the community. Barrera said that by working with juvenile probation officers, they’ve done some detentions and they’re getting ready to work on adjudication cases.
“We’ve got some dangerous kids out there, and I say kids because some of them are under 17. Using weapons to commit robberies, shooting others because they think they can get away with it,” Barrera said. “We’ll soon find out what the community will do with these individuals when it comes to jury trials.”
The district attorney will also focus on keeping the worst and repeat offenders off the streets once they’re incarcerated. This month, the office has had hearings for reduced bonds. One inmate who filed had three charges, Barrera said, and a background check showed he had about a dozen bonds out on him. By showing the court what this individual has been up to, Barrera said he could provide a compelling argument to keep this individual in jail.
“If they’re in there more than 90 days, and not indicted, then the court could allow a PR (personal recognizance) bond on these individuals, unless the DA’s office can show if they have problems with prior arrests, that’s another area we’re covering,” Barrera said.
To deal with the influx of writs, Barrera is moving to get these cases of individuals who have been incarcerated for long periods of time without indictments before the grand jury in a timely manner. The next grand jury is scheduled at the end of January.
“We’re going to get to all of them, we’re being aggressive,“ Barrera said. “What is justice? Justice is not to put somebody in jail that does not belong in jail. But if they do, we will. If the facts show that these people are violating the laws of our community, they’re going to be dealt with. And these juveniles know they are going to be dealt with too.”
Barrera said the proof is in the stack of “motion to revokes” that are pending, which the DA’s office is currently reviewing. For those individuals on probation who commit crimes against the conditions of their probation, those motions to revoke are the key to taking them off the streets and putting them behind bars, he said.
“And we’re going to get to everybody, I guarantee you that,” Barrera said.
“Time is going to tell how well things have gone…whether we’ll see an improvement, if the community will feel a little bit safer, if the officers will be more confident and whether everybody will be working as a team.
“That’s my goal, that we do that. And when it comes time for citizens to do their duty and come serve on a jury, I hope they don’t look for an excuse because we won’t.”