AUSTIN - Jim Wells County District Attorney Carlos Omar Garcia, Assistant District Attorneys Jon West, Richard Mackay, and Alfonzo Cuellar, along with Investigator Jason Childers attended the 2019 Annual Training for the Texas Border Prosecution Unit (BPU).
Training was held in Austin, TX from June 3 through 6. It included representation from 20 jurisdictions that make up the BPU. The conference opened with a discussion of the BPU’s policies and practices as well as how the actions of the 86th Legislative Session pertain to the BPU. A presentation on significant United States Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decisions presented by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge David Newell.
“The BPU annual conference is always one of the most comprehensive trainings,” JWC DA Garcia said. “It was great seeing one of my own investigators up there offering information on investigating gangs from a rural perspective, in the past, many gang trainings are from an urban perspective where they have the advantage of “gang units” that are larger than many of our local police departments. The biggest problem is that we hear about these great techniques out of these larger jurisdictions that we can’t use in the smaller jurisdictions, Jason (Childers) was able to focus on strategies that we can use.”
The first day concluded with an address from Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and day two included a case study on prosecuting a human trafficking case presented by Polk County Criminal District Attorney Lee Hon.
One of the highlighted presentations was entitled “Gang Investigation and Prosecution and Chapter 67 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure” presented by Tony Hackebeil, Assistant Criminal District Attorney with the Bexar County BPU-TAG (Texas Anit-Gang Unit) and Investigator Childers. The day closed with a presentation on prosecuting outlaw motorcycle gangs by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Sloane of the El Paso County BPU-TAG and a presentation on digital evidence by Williamson County Chief retired Investigator Melissa Hightower.
The third day of the training included a case study on a death penalty case presented by 49th Judicial District Attorney Isidro “Chilo” Alaniz; a presentation on lawyer wellness by Dallas-area attorney Terry Bently Hill; presentations on organized crime prosecutions presented by Ted Wilson, Craig Goodhart, both retired Harris County prosecutors, and Mark Edwards, BPU Human Trafficking Counsel, as well as the effective use of confidential informants presented by David McCracken, El Paso County Assistant District Attorney.
The final day of the annual BPU Conference concluded with training on officer-involved shootings and investigations conducted by the Texas Rangers offered by Ranger Brad Oliver, Texas Rangers-Company B and a collaborative BPU presentation entitled “Tool Time” where several jurisdictions shared documents and information aimed at assisting in the prosecution of transnational criminal cases. The last day of the conference included all of the BPU family getting together to sign a giant card for BPU prosecutor Marisol C. Garcia who was injured on her way back from the 2018 annual BPU Conference.
The BPU is a history-making initiative funded by grants from the Texas Governor’s Office involving the Texas Department of Public Safety and each of the district attorneys in the border jurisdictions of Texas. Stretching from El Paso to Brownsville and covering 49 counties along and adjacent to the Rio Grande and three counties housing Texas Anti-Gang Units, the BPU encompasses a network of 20 Texas district attorney offices, including the 79th Judicial District. In each of these offices, an assistant district attorney is assigned to handle a specialized caseload of border crime cases and additional regional prosecutors, investigators and BPU support staff have been placed in jurisdictions based on threat assessments conducted by DPS and border security priorities set by the Governor’s Office.
The genius of the BPU program is the close collaboration, communication and coordination it has promoted between state prosecutors and the Texas Department of Public Safety. BPU lawyers work with their DPS counterparts on a daily basis to identify and disrupt the criminal organizations operating in our border region and to offer law enforcement training to local departments. In addition to the assistant district attorneys working in each of the 20 jurisdictions, a regional attorney is assigned and housed in the DPS offices in each of the three BPU regions, and other prosecutors are embedded in the Criminal Investigation Divisions (CID) of DPS and in TAGs throughout Texas.
According to JWC DA Garcia, the 79th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has been successful in getting BPU grant funded resources awarded to our jurisdiction; BPU resources include: one prosecutor embedded with DPS-CID, two prosecutors housed in the DA’s office, one investigator and one administrative assistant. District Attorney Garcia is a BPU member, served on the BPU Executive Committee for a two terms and has participated as a member of the BPU Legislative Committee and the BPU Training Committee.