A former prosecutor in the office of a progressive district attorney in Austin, Texas is running as a Democrat against his former boss and told Fox News Digital the Soros-backed DA’s policies have been “hurtful to the community” and based on political ideology rather than upholding the law.
“I noticed that there were simple things that weren’t being done and I knew that the expertise level had been so diminished with all of the prosecutors who left,” Jeremy Sylestine, a defense attorney and Travis County prosecutor for 15 years, told Fox News Digital when asked why he has decided to run against Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza.
“It just became apparent that the DA’s office wasn’t maintaining its basic functions and it seems to me that we’re seeing that in the results of cases and the numbers that we are experiencing in terms of crime right now.”
DA Garza has been widely criticized in the community for alleged soft on crime policies and labeled a “rogue prosecutor” by those who say his office has focused on “reimaging policing” and prosecuting police officers rather than taking criminals off the streets and honoring the wishes of the families of crime victims.
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Sylestine, who left Garza’s office to start his own practice in December 2021, roughly a year after Garza was sworn in, told Fox News Digital he has heard the concerns of those families and aims to “return power to the victims.”
“It seems like every day there’s a new story that comes out where someone has been left holding the bag and disrespected by the DA’s office,” Sylestine said. “I know from being a prosecutor that there are tough decisions you have to make, but the cases that I’m seeing in terms of domestic violence and sexual assault are just very incongruent with what my experience was and what I want to do is return that power to the victim because the system isn’t designed to protect their rights.
“It’s the DA’s job I think when the case is right, when the evidence is there to make sure that we’re putting our best foot forward and I think that that’s what victims and survivors want to see, is that somebody is willing to stand up and fight those hard fights.”
Sylestine, a Texas native and member of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, pointed to the fact that he is a “proud Democrat” and believes in progressive reforms but said good can come out of the system only if the tools are used “properly.”
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“What I’m seeing now are those tools being used in a way that’s hurtful to the community. So, you know, ignoring crime that is happening is not the answer. Going light on sentencing is not the answer. The reason I know that is I’ve tried over 75 cases to jury here in Travis County and I know how thoughtful and intelligent they are and I know that they care about this stuff.”
“So when we start taking those decisions away from them, we really don’t have the feedback that we need to prop the system up. The juries that come in and hear these cases are the backbone of the entire system and if we’re not willing to put those cases in front of them, then we are saying that their opinions don’t matter and that’s the wrong way to go about this and I think that’s exactly what this DA’s office is doing, is assuming that it knows better than the citizens here in Travis County and I want to return back to a system where we rely on the citizens to speak into it.”
Sylestine pointed to one specific example of a case where he says DA Garza ignored his obligation to protect the people of Austin which involved a homeless man named Hilario Adrian who was let back out on the street, despite violent assault charges, and then arrested once again for allegedly stabbing another homeless man to death.
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“The guy was in jail for aggravated assault and he was alleged to have been swinging a golf club and a hatchet at someone and he went to jail,” Sylestine explained. “During that time, the DA’s office had 90 days to get a case indicted and they failed to do that. They missed their deadline. So by operation of law, he gets a dollar bond and after that gets out and commits a murder. I just think that’s so egregious that it needs to be highlighted, and it needs to be spoken about. And, you know, Mr. Garza’s going to say, well, there were other considerations. There really wasn’t. He missed his deadline. He dropped the ball and now there’s a dead man on the other side.”
“My question to Travis County is how many more of those stories do we need to hear before we say enough is enough and it’s time for change?”
Garza has pointed to the coronavirus pandemic in response to criticism about the current backlog of cases his office faces and a recent KXAN report casting doubt on the conviction rate numbers his office has put out. Sylestine says part of the problem is that Garza “ran off so many experienced prosecutors” leading to a “dearth of experience” in his office.
“Now what we see is a backlog of over 7000 cases that are now piled upon those same prosecutors who are tasked with keeping track of those deadlines and making sure that they are keeping in line with the criminal procedures that are in place,” Sylestine explained.
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“That is all feeding on itself and it creates dangerous situations. But on top of that, within those 7000 cases are other victims of crime being ignored in the meantime. So there’s been no addressing of that backlog and he’s had three years to do it. I know there was a pandemic, but he’s had three years to get it done and it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. So I don’t know how much more time he deserves and I’m calling him to the carpet on that one right now.”
A major issue in Austin that has garnered national headlines is the cratered morale within the Austin Police Department after it was defunded by the city council in 2020 and the tense relationship between Garza’s office and police stemming from Garza’s campaign promise to prosecute police officers and the multitude of indictments he has carried out since his election.
Sylestine told Fox News Digital he is “proud” of his relationship with APD and that the relationship between the DA’s office and the police “needs some drastic remeasurement and recalibration.”
“I grew up as a prosecutor and as a young lawyer in the system, so a lot of the officers and detectives that were making up my cases when I was a younger lawyer are now in commanding positions,” Sylestine said.
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“So in terms of the relationship that I have, those men and women of the force, they know my brand and they know that I’m not an APD or law enforcement apologist either. If there’s something that’s been done wrong, they know that Jeremy Sylestine will hold them accountable. But they also know that it takes good communication and trust to make those relationships work and right now, that’s fractured, and it doesn’t have to be.”
Sylestine continued, “Mr. Garza came in and had a political bullseye painted right on the chart on the backs of APD officers. They advertised for prosecutors who wanted to come in specifically to do that and if we did that with any other group, there would be an uproar over what sort of fixed mindset we were having, coming into our cases.”
Sylestine will face off with Garza in the Democratic Primary in Austin on March 5.
When asked by Fox News Digital what his pitch to undecided voters is, Sylestine said the district attorney’s office is in need of a “total shift at the top.”
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“There is a level of ineptitude and bad policy that, when combined, are creating a really dangerous situation here in Travis County,” Sylestine said. “The DA’s office and Jose Garza in particular are going to say that Austin is one of the safest cities in America but that’s not what people are feeling. That’s certainly not what the numbers are showing. So I think that we can point to very specific cases where the DA’s office has simply not done its job.”
Sylestine said that residents “feel ignored and displaced by all of the actions of the DA’s office.”
“I’m telling people that it doesn’t have to be that way,” Sylestine said. “You can have a qualified candidate who knows Travis County, who knows Travis County juries, and still can get the job done while maintaining the progressive traditions of the office and I’m not afraid of that.”
“We always have to keep an open mind about what the system is capable of and what harms need to be repaired, what wrongs need to be righted, but at the same time, we don’t have to sacrifice public and community safety for that,” Sylestine said. “People should feel safe when they go downtown. People should feel free to be out in the world without worrying about whether they’re going to get shot on Sixth Street and that’s just not the case right now.”
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“When my friends, when my family come to visit and they say they might be going downtown, that’s not a place that I recommend they go and there’s a very specific reason for that. This all feeds on itself. When we are suffering as a community, when families suffer, when businesses suffer, it all draws in to a larger problem and I think that is part of the DA’s mission is to make sure that we are addressing that community need and that we don’t ignore the issue of community safety.”
Fox News Digital reached out to Garza’s office for comment but did not receive a response.
Fox News Digital’s Aubrie Spady contributed to this report