Following a day-long shooting that left six people dead, documents revealed that the shooter had been bailed out following an arrest by a bail reform group about two years earlier. 

According to Bexar County booking records obtained by KSAT News, the alleged perpetrator, Shane James, was bonded out in early 2022 by Laquita Garcia, a policy coordinator for the bail reform organization Texas Organizing Project (TOP). 

After being bailed out by TOP, warrants for James’ re-arrest were issued early in March 2022. However, county officials have not explained why he was not taken back into custody over the past 21 months.

Anonymous sources told KSAT News that James had three pending cases in Bexar County for misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to family.

In past years, TOP has come under fire for bailing out as many as 25-30 Bexar County Jail defendants per month.

In 2022, News 4 investigated the correlation between rising homicides and property crimes in San Antonio as it relates to lenient bail practices. 

The county and TOP—who worked with the county—argue that the cash bail system discriminates against poorer people, and if inmates pose little to no risk to society, they should be released on little to no bond. However, records show that some of the inmates TOP bailed out had extensive criminal records. 

According to their reports, since 2020, TOP has bailed out 741 inmates from Bexar County Jail. However, the number has likely climbed since then.

During the “Defund the Police” movement in 2020, TOP was one of the leading organizations for the initiative. Since then, the group has focused on bail reform for “low-level offenders.”

News 4 investigated some of the cases where TOP had bailed out “low-level offenders” and found that some were repeat offenders with violent histories. 

One of the defendants was Ernest Saldana, who was bailed out for felony methamphetamine possession. However, the police report showed that at the time of arrest, Saldana had gone into the women’s restroom with a knife. 

Before that incident, Saldana was indicted for shooting and stabbing a female companion in 2006. 

Another defendant bailed out was Gilbert Vasquez, who was bonded out for meth possession and evading arrest. He was charged as a repeat offender with 44 cases on his record, including assault, robbery, and theft. 

News 4 found multiple other inmates bailed out by TOP with long criminal histories and who still had active warrants out for their arrest after they were bonded out. 

In November, News 4 obtained a recorded phone call revealing TOP talking to a man they believe is an inmate that they recently bailed out, asking him to do door-to-door canvassing for $20 an hour. Some campaign work included canvassing for the Bexar County district attorney’s office, which prosecutes criminals. 

On the phone call was Laquita Garcia and another staffer named Greg Williams. After the call was released, TOP responded to the accusations, telling News 4, “During a recent call, a new staff member misspoke regarding paid canvassing opportunities. Immediately after the incident, a senior community bail fund staff member counseled the employee that the information provided was inaccurate.”

The organization has canvassed for numerous candidates, including Rochelle Garza, who ran for state attorney general, and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar in 2020. 

According to campaign finance reports from 2022, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales gave TOP a $5,000 contribution in August 2022. In September, TOP spent $27,702 canvassing for Gonzales. 

In 2018, TOP did $76,710 worth of campaign work for Gonzales. 

TOP hasn’t spent money only in Bexar County but also in other urban areas in the state. 

During the ongoing election for Houston Mayor, the group has endorsed Sheila Jackson Lee and spent nearly $400,000 on canvassing and other campaign activities related to the election. 

The organization also has close ties to leftist mega-donor George Soros, who has contributed $250,000 to TOP in recent months. 

After news broke about the organization’s ties to Soros, former candidate for Harris County Judge ​​Alexandra Mealer took to social media, saying, “TOP works year around to elect candidates in favor of dismantling the criminal justice system so no surprise on [Soros donation].”

TOP’s website shows that they currently have offices in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. 

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.