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New data comes with a new prosecutor

Commissioners approve district attorney's request; county discusses virus conditions in jail
Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Hays County Commissioners Court approved the District Attorney’s office to hire a new prosecutor to participate in a magistration study with Texas A&M University. 

The full-time prosecutor position, effective July 16 will work with Texas A&M University, Public Policy Research Institute Counsel in a First Appearance - Randomized Controlled Trial. 

The study is meant to track outcomes for the accused having representation at magistration versus not having representation. At this point it is not mandated or required to have representation at magistration in Texas, but it is believed to lead to improved outcomes, including potentially less time waiting in jail and possibly avoiding going to jail altogether. 

District Criminal Attorney Wes Mau made the request saying the data would be more accurate if there was a prosecutor present, as it would reflect how scenarios would play out in the future should a counsel at magistration policy become institutionalized outside of a study.

Geoff Burkhart, director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, the organization covering attorney fees for the study said having a prosecutor present or not would not affect the results in a randomized control trial because half would be getting counsel and half would not regardless of other variables. “In a lot of counties we have talked to, prosecutors have expressed an interest at being present in magistration. It's not unusual. Harris and Bexar Counties have prosecutors present with counsel at magistration,” he said.

The costs for the study did not originally include a prosecutor, so the new hire will cost the county an additional $94,263 annually. This funding came from salary savings due to attrition.

This position will represent the state in all magistration hearings conducted under the study parameters, as well as other duties of an attorney. 

The county provided a less than hopeful update related to COVID-19. The final round of Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) testing occurring July 12-16 at San Marcos High School will have around 500 tests, although they are working to increase capacity closer to 750, the amount they used in previous testing rounds. 

TDEM will be using the curative, or cheek swab testing because they render quicker results. Emergency Management Coordinator Alex Villalobos said labs had fallen so far behind it was almost worthless to continue with molecular testing. 

Villalobos is working on agreements with local facilities to have more regular availability of testing, accessible to all parts of the county. 

Judge Ruben Becerra said, “I know that we have had a tremendous negative impact at a personal level from COVID-19. It's a very big deal. It's a sad reality that folks still don't believe in fundamentals. We aren’t getting any better. We are going backwards and getting worse. I fear what the Fourth of July will bring forth.”

As of Monday at 4 p.m., the Hays County Jail had 60 inmates test positive, 45 of which were still in their custody. Zero inmates have been hospitalized. Ten correctional officers have tested positive. Six inmates have tested negative and there are 57 tests pending results. 

Fort Bend County and Burnet County jails have asked Hays County Jail to pick up some of their inmates as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and staffing shortages due to staff testing positive.

Captain Julie Villalpando reported that 183 tests had been conducted since April 24, and prior to that tests were very hard to come by. She said that tests were not available to them in March and they were only testing inmates who had symptoms, “We were lucky if we had four tests in our facility to conduct testing in March and April.”

“We are doing everything we can to keep our employees safe,” Villalpando said. “That’s all we can do. It's everywhere, it's in every jail. We are doing everything we can possibly think of to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Villalpando reported that the jail is taking precautions like separating inmates who have been tested positive, tested negative and those who haven’t been tested. She said inmates have been given hand sanitizer, soap, reminders of CDC prevention guidelines and masks, despite conflicting reports from lawyers and relatives of inmates. 

Villalpando said they expect numbers to continue to grow. 

In other business, the Hays County Census coordinator Jessica Mejia reported new rankings in self response rates for filling out the 2020 Census: Mountain City in first place, Bear Creek in second with 77% self response rate, Buda in third place with 71.3% and the City of Hays in fourth place with 71%.

San Marcos so far has a 42.6% self response rate. 

Mejia said they have been successful in conducting outreach through bilingual yard signs, census banners, postcards at the Central Texas Food Bank distribution site in Kyle and at the Hays County Food Bank in San Marcos, signage and tabling at the COVID-19 testing sites, a writing project with the Indigenous Cultures Institute and a commercial PSA in English and Spanish. 

San Marcos Record

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