EXCLUSIVE: A criminal defense attorney in Austin, Texas, has launched a campaign as a Republican to unseat the county’s Soros-backed district attorney who has been heavily criticized for prosecuting police officers, being soft on crime and promoting policies that make the city less safe.
Daniel Betts, a criminal defense attorney practicing in Austin at the state and federal level for the last 13 years, spoke to Fox News Digital in his first on-camera interview since filing his candidacy petition.
He said he is running in part due to what he has heard from the families of crime victims in Austin who have said they have been treated poorly by the office of Travis County DA Jose Garza.
“I don’t think that if you talk to anybody in the community, especially anybody who’s been affected by the violent crime that is running rampant through Austin and the surrounding cities, that they would agree with him and his approach at all,” Betts said.
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Garza took office in Travis County in January 2021 after running on a platform of “reimagining” policing in Austin, promoting progressive sentencing policies and pledging to prosecute police officers. Since taking office, Austin set an all-time record for homicides, and Garza has faced intense scrutiny in the community for the way he has handled crime and “cherry-picked” charges based on politics.
“I think it’s manifestly clear that it’s more dangerous,” Betts said. “The only thing that may make it look like it’s about as dangerous is the fact that regular citizens don’t feel like reporting crime matters anymore.
“There’s so much crime that goes unreported — property crime and even violent crime — that because of the lack of investment in the police, because the police are being undermined systematically by District Attorney Garza, as a result, the citizens don’t feel like it’s worth their effort, that their investigation, if an investigation is done, isn’t going to be prosecuted. And the police feel the same way, that if they do an investigation, then nothing’s going to come of it.”
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Betts told Fox News Digital the “sad reality” of life on the streets of Austin is that “criminals are more afraid of other criminals” than they are of being prosecuted by DA Garza’s office.
“That is, in my estimation, that’s the beginning of the end,” Betts said. “And I think once great American cities like Detroit and San Francisco — I really see us heading there. And I see us heading there in a hurry. And I don’t think that Austin can stand to have another four years of Garza if we want to survive as a city.”
Garza has been criticized for the data his office has presented that he says shows he has “increased the conviction rate for violent crimes from 38% to 91%. A recent analysis by KXAN-TV cast doubt on those numbers and how they were calculated and if his office was not including cases that were dropped or pleaded down.
“When you put the focus on convictions and statistics like that, you’re hiding the ball at best, and you’re really making misrepresentations at worst. And this is a self-inflicted wound,” Betts said. “He didn’t need to bring up these false statistics. But what I believe he said was that their conviction rate for violent crimes is 91%, that they got it up to 91%. And, by reference, I believe in Margaret Moore’s administration, it was around 38%.”
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“And KXAN, when they got the raw data and they said, ‘Well, where possibly are you getting these numbers?’ Then they finally got back the formula and they caught him red-handed, essentially because the pandemic had created three years of cases that were backlogged and couldn’t be tried and hadn’t been resolved for years.
“He was taking all the cases that they had resolved this year and putting that in the numerator. And as the denominator of the fraction, he was putting all the cases that were filed this year. So he wasn’t tracking the same cases. It wasn’t how you do math. It wasn’t how you do statistics.“
Policing has been a focal point in Austin since the city council defunded the department in 2020, which critics say has cratered morale and disrupted staffing in ways that will take years to recover. At the same time, Garza has made it a top priority to prosecute officers and indicted over 20 cops for their involvement in quelling a Black Lives Matter riot in 2020 despite the Austin Police Department exonerating their actions.
Garza recently dropped 17 of those indictments after years of legal back and forth that sparked outrage from critics who said the officers were wrongly accused in the first place. It’s a sentiment Betts agrees with.
“Indictments are almost a deadly weapon in and of themselves,” Betts said. “They destroy people’s lives, especially when it’s directed at someone who did not commit a crime. And it is such a heinous abuse of our criminal justice system that he would force those through, especially once he had seen the evidence.“
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Betts said he was “thankful” to the officers for “stepping into the fray” during the riot in a situation where they fired less than lethal munitions into the crowd after being attacked by activists with rocks, bottles, frozen water bottles, bottles containing bodily fluids and bottles containing bleach.
“Rioting is not free speech, and there are consequences when it happens,” Betts said. “And it’s just a terrible situation all around. But, you know, you talked about dollars being spent, dollars and tears and sleepless nights. I imagine some of those officers are now divorced as a result of this. The stress that it brings to a family to have an indictment like that hanging over your head and the effect that it necessarily had on those officers’ jobs and their assignments. Horrendous.”
“That’s a lot of bunk,” Betts said of Garza’s move to ask for a DOJ investigation into the officers’ conduct after he dropped the cases. “And that’s just political cover.”
The contentious relationship between Garza and the police department came to a head recently at the funeral of fallen Austin Police Officer Jorge Pastore when Garza showed up at the ceremony, causing anger from law enforcement.
“It speaks to how he lives in his own little bubble and is just completely tone deaf,” Betts told Fox News Digital. “So callous, so out of touch with reality, and that’s who we have leading this office. That’s not a leader.
“And I’ve spoken to people who used to be at the Workers Defense Project, and they said he wasn’t a leader there either. You know, he’s an ideologue, and the district attorney’s office is not the place to be running a social experiment when people’s lives and their futures are on the line. And, unfortunately, that’s what we have going on right now.”
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Betts acknowledged that running against a well-funded opponent like Garza will be an uphill battle, but he plans on doing it by bringing people together and believes Garza is “uniquely vulnerable” in this election cycle.
“People talk about it as a political spectrum. I like to think of it as a continuum because there are so many ways in which we can choose to be united on our common goals as opposed to being divided by petty differences that aren’t really even most of the time differences to begin with,” Betts told Fox News Digital.
“I think that he has alienated his base by dismissing these indictments, and he’s trying to have his cake and eat it, too. And I think that people don’t like the influence of big money in local politics. He may be able to run a lot of ads, but he can’t buy votes.”
Betts explained that when people vote based on “identity groups” they eventually come around to realize they are “disenfranchising themselves” because those Democratic politicians “don’t have any interest in actually doing anything for those groups because they know that they’re always going to get those votes.”
“We talk about the violent crime that’s up,” Betts added. “We don’t talk about as much the victims. The victims are Black and brown more often than not across the city, and those are people who should have a voice.
“And they should have a voice before they get victimized so that they don’t get victimized … by some of these policies, because these policies have actual effects on people’s lives. This isn’t academia. This is the real world.”
“I think once these people are able to realize, of all these different groups, that they do have a choice and that when fear doesn’t rule the equation — they cannot be controlled as easily — that we can bring about a much better Austin.”
Fox News Digital reached out to Garza’s office but did not receive a response.
Fox News Digital’s Aubrie Spady contributed to this report