I really have to hand it to the ten “elected Democratic Officials in Travis County” who last week (February 21) sent out a letter demanding that Democratic District Attorney candidate Jeremy Sylestine “renounce Republican money and Republican attacks in the Democratic Primary in Travis County.” They know how to pack a lot into a one-page letter while simultaneously leaving out a whole bunch of relevant stuff. It was quite a feat. (See letter below, including for names of signers.)

“The Ten,” as I will call them here, demand that Sylestine stop “parroting Republican talking points and attacks.” That demand is followed by, “These false attacks embolden fringe elements and pose a risk to the safety of public servants and their families.” 

When I say they left some things out I’m talking about any specific examples of the Republican “talking points,” or “false attacks,” that they accuse Sylestine and his campaign of making. They also don’t include any examples of the “Republican money” that they call on Sylestine to “renounce.” 

To some, it might seem an odd strategy to demand that someone stop certain behaviors — “renounce” those behaviors — but not give any examples of the alleged behaviors. (Odd, unless we’re talking about instances like where a parent might say, “You know what I mean.”) But, maybe it’s not so strange; not if you’re just trying to get a — what is the term, can’t quite think of it, oh yeah — talking point, out there to the faithful; let’s say that a particular, unfavored, candidate is spewing Republican “talking points.” You could even have an unspoken subtext that anyone who starts saying similar things might be the next one to get a letter from The Ten.

Although The Ten offered no examples of what they want Sylestine to stop, it is not difficult to figure out what they meant. The Ten were clearly referring to Sylestine’s contention that Garza has been too easy on violent criminals. That is a core Sylestine message.  For one thing, he managed to work that message into almost every answer to questions in our interview with him. 

On his campaign website, for another example, Sylestine says, “Travis County will be more secure under the leadership of someone who knows how to aggressively prosecute violent crime, but also recognizes that other cases require a softer touch. We don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. That’s why I am running for District Attorney.” (Garza’s campaign website can be found here.)

A little further down the page Sylestine promises that he will: “Aggressively prosecute violent crimes, including sexual assault, rape, child abuse, domestic violence, and felony gun possession. The current DA’s treatment towards violent offenders is dangerously lenient. This has resulted in a severe lack of justice for victims of heinous crimes and little to no consequences for many violent criminals. The job of the top prosecutor in the county is to see that justice is done.”

Sylestine gives a shorter version of the same in a mailer: “We need a leader in the Travis County District Attorney’s office who understands that criminal justice reform and protecting people from violent crime go hand-in-hand. Violent crime hurts everyone.”

These are the consistent and frequently repeated core themes of Sylestine’s candidacy:

  • that he will “aggressively prosecute violent crime”
  • that under Garza there has been a “a severe lack of justice for victims of heinous crimes”
  • criminal justice reform and protecting people from violent crime go hand-in-hand

So, are The Ten saying that the above Sylestine messages — or “talking points” — are exclusively Republican concerns? Given the consistency of Sylestine’s message and the lack of any specifics from The Ten, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion. From there it is not much of a leap to another conclusion, that these ten “elected Democratic Officials in Travis County” are ceding aggressive prosecution of violent crime — and advocacy for that — to Republicans. They appear to be demanding that a candidate stop calling for aggressively prosecuting violent crime — among other related things — because it is a Republican talking point.  

I know that’s a tough thing to say and some people might find it a stretch. I remember though when the Right used to just make up that Progressives of an earlier time didn’t care about public safety or were even opposed to it. For instance I was accused of that because I was for police accountability and was a leader in getting the first civilian oversight in a Texas city. The letter from The Ten is the closest example I have ever seen of that charge actually being true about anybody.

It’s an example of what I have pointed out in other contexts before. Republicans don’t have to make things up about some of today’s local “elected Democratic Officials.” They just have to accurately point out what those local “elected Democratic Officials” do and say.

Before moving to the next section, I want to do what amounts to diagramming two sentences in The Ten’s letter. That is the section that reads, “your campaign has been parroting Republican talking points and attacks. These false attacks embolden fringe elements and pose a risk to the safety of public servants and their families.” It may be a minor point, but here The Ten say the (Republican) “attacks” are “false,” but they don’t say the same thing about the (also Republican) “talking points.” So they appear to be leaving open the possibility that some of the talking points are true, yet still “Republican” in nature.

By the way, none of The Ten answered my challenge from last week to “defend Garza’s record in regard to his treatment of the victims of violent crime, in particular female victims of violent crime.” And, just as a reminder, neither Garza’s campaign nor his DA Office will respond to us. 

To repeat, it appears that The Ten left open the possibility that some of Sylestine’s “talking points” are true, but nonetheless “Republican.” So are they calling on Sylestine to stop using these “Republican talking points” even if they are true?

It’s hard to decipher. So let’s move on and examine some examples of things that actually happened, with a mind as to whether they seem to be true.

Is the Jogger Attacked In Travis Heights Spouting Republican Talking Points?

Lynn Isaak was brutally attacked while jogging in Travis Heights, as detailed in an earlier Independent story. I’m not sure what Isaak’s political affiliation is, but she did an ad for Sylestine’s campaign in which she recounts the attack and criticizes the plea deal José Garza cut. That plea let the perpetrator walk free with no prison time. 

Is Isaak, in the view of The Ten, just “parroting Republican talking points and attacks?” Is she engaging in “false attacks (that) embolden fringe elements and pose a risk to the safety of public servants and their families?” Does she need to “renounce. . . Republican attacks in the Democratic Primary in Travis County”?

OK, let’s close by looking at a few other cases that we haven’t covered yet. 

Another Case for Democrats To Consider

According to KXAN and the Austin American-Statesman, in March 2019 Johnny Ebbs V got into an argument with his 32 weeks pregnant girlfriend, accusing her of cheating on him. Several local media outlets reported on this case and we rely on them here, along with reviewing court records. 

In the Statesman’s summary of an affidavit, “Ebbs grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground. . . Ebbs then punched her in the stomach with his fist.” KXAN added that as he “punched her in the stomach,” Ebbs “screamed ‘F— you and this baby! You aren’t going anywhere!’” 

The Statesman reported that the grand jury, which indicted Ebbs, also “accused Ebbs of shoving her face into broken glass and ‘seizing and squeezing (her) about the throat and neck with his hand.’”

As the Statesman put it, “She lost the baby soon afterward.” 

KVUE reported, “Ebbs was initially charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, assault impeding breath/circulation and continuous violence against family.”

OK, my fellow Democrats, how do you think José Garza’s DA Office resolved this? 

Well, as KVUE put it, “Ebbs received eight years of deferred adjudication on the continuous violence against family charge.” The other charges were dropped.

KXAN helpfully explained, “Deferred adjudication is when a person pleads guilty or no contest to a charge, and there is no finding of guilt at the time of sentencing. The court puts that person on community supervision, or probation, for a stretch of time, and if the probation is completed, then the original offense is dismissed. But if the person has their probation revoked or violates probation, they could face up to the full punishment of the original charge.”

In what seems to be Garza’s normal practice, his office issued a short statement on the verdict, saying, ”Additional evidence gathered through the course of the investigation made clear that the facts do not support the initial allegation.” 

Exactly what this means is a mystery (unless the statement was longer than any media reported, and there’s no way the Austin Independent can find out since Garza’s office won’t communicate with us). The Statesman, however, followed their quote of the DA’s statement with this summary sentence, “The cause of the fetus’ death is undetermined, other than that it occurred in the uterus, according to the autopsy conducted by the Travis County medical examiner’s office.”

According to the Statesman, the “fetus’ toxicology results found signs of cocaine in the liver.” A test of the victim at the hospital, however, came back negative for cocaine. The Statesman also reported on an email sent to the DA’s Office by a trauma surgeon, who was brought forward by Attorney Kelsey McKay, the lawyer for the victim. In the email the trauma surgeon wrote, as paraphrased by the Statesman, that she “believed the fetus’ injuries were consistent with trauma, not drug use.”

OK, so let’s give the DA’s Office the benefit of the doubt here and accept that it is appropriate for them to pursue every angle, including the possibility that Ebbs punching the woman in the stomach and throwing her to the ground wasn’t what caused her to lose the baby. 

But, if that’s the case then why did Garza drop the charges for aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and assault impeding breath/circulation? It could be that he is saying that the woman was not being truthful about Ebbs assaulting her. But, if that is the case then why did he get Ebbs to plead guilty to continuous violence against family?”

Representatives of the SAFE Alliance, an advocacy group for victims of domestic violence, didn’t seem to think the victim made up her story. The group issued a statement which read in part, “The SAFE Alliance was deeply frustrated that an abuser who committed several violent acts against … one of our employees received no prison time.”

After the sentencing, the woman whom Ebbs beat told him in open court, “”You were right when you said you’d get away with beating me.” She also told him, “You killed your own son, and although the legal system has justified his murder for you, you and I both know why Charles is dead. . . We also both know that you will never change.”

That’s pretty strong, but is she just “parroting Republican talking points and attacks?”

The Statesman also quoted the woman’s attorney, Kelsey McKay, ‘“Unfortunately, it is because of decisions like this that women of color will continue to face the inequitable and disproportionate consequences of intimate partner homicide.’” The Statesman added, “Her client is a Black woman.”

‘“Unfortunately, it is because of decisions like this that women of color will continue to face the inequitable and disproportionate consequences of intimate partner homicide.’” Attorney Kelsey McKay as quoted by the Austin American-Statesman

Still Another Case For Democrats To Consider

In August 2020 a woman had broken up with a man she had been dating, Richard Adeyemi Williams, but they remained friends. Here’s how KXAN recounts the story from an arrest warrant. “The victim told police that she and Williams had been hanging out by the pool in her apartment complex before they decided to get food and go back to her place.”

Continuing the KXAN summary, “The woman says that sometime after 9 p.m. Williams went through her phone without her knowledge and discovered information indicating that she’d been interacting with other men. After this, police say, Williams ‘became enraged.’

According to the arrest affidavit, Williams ripped a mounted television off the wall and then chased her into the bedroom, where she locked herself inside. Nevertheless, police say, Williams tore the door apart with his bare hands, entered the room and began assaulting the victim with the shredded pieces.

The victim says she was then brutally sexually assaulted by Williams, punched in the face, and strangled to the point that she thought she was going to suffocate — all while gasping for him to stop.

Police say Williams then poured various substances over the victim’s head, laughed at her and then threatened her with a knife when she tried to escape. She says he told her that if she wanted to be with someone else, he would be the last person she would be with.

The incident lasted about two hours, police say. Once it was over, Williams then stole the victim’s car keys and about $180 and left.”

Police were able to capture Williams, in part because, as KXAN continues, “a friend of the victim came forward to show disturbing photos Williams had sent her of the scene. The text messages showed to be from Williams and he admitted to taking them.”

Fellow Democrats, how much time do you think the person who did all that to a woman should get? Well, here’s what happened. Garza allowed Williams to plead guilty to a single charge of “sexual coercion.” He got five years deferred adjudication. He was also required to wear a GPS device for a year, but that requirement would be dropped after 90 days if it were determined he met the standards for “good behavior.” 

Well, that’ll teach him.

Fellow Democrats, do you think this is a fair sentence? Does reporting the facts on this case amount to “parroting Republican talking points? 

Another fair question might be, how would you explain to the victim, a woman of color by the way, that you are voting to reelect the District Attorney who let her abuser walk free without jail time?


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