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“I believe it is important to partner with other agencies like this”
At least six people have died while in custody at the Bexar County Jail in San Antonio during 2021, and investigations into those cases are conducted by outside agencies, the La Salle County Sheriff’s Office now among them.
A response to a plea by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office this month that La Salle be placed on rotation for investigating custodial deaths came in a unanimous decision Monday by county commissioners for a sharing of resources.
The vote, however, was made with a caution that La Salle County Sheriff Anthony Zertuche not overstretch his own officer resources when agreeing to assist in the investigation of deaths in Bexar County.
“Bexar County has a jail capacity of five thousand,” the sheriff told commissioners Monday, November 15. “Sometimes, a county has to investigate a custodial death. The Texas Rangers won’t assist Bexar County in this, so Sheriff Javier Salazar is asking for assistance from law enforcement neighbors.”
Zertuche said that, if called upon, La Salle County would send one of its investigators to Bexar County to examine the circumstances of a death at the jail and testify in court, if necessary. The agreement to share investigative resources can be made for a year or up to four years, the sheriff said.
For its part, in return for the service, Bexar County will make a variety of law enforcement resources available to La Salle, including training, SWAT teams, surveillance drones, and canine units, according to Zertuche.
Bexar County will also cover all the expenses related to an investigator’s visit, including accommodation and meals. The investigator’s salary, however, will continue being paid by La Salle County.
“Bexar County can’t investigate itself, so they are seeking our assistance,” the sheriff said. “I believe it is important to partner with other agencies like this.”
“The only concern I have is that we have been through some hard times,” County Judge Joel Rodriguez said. “Oil is going up and down, and some people believe we are wealthy. We are not. My concern is over our officers being spread too thin.”
“We would only send one officer,” Zertuche said.
“It’s not bad to offer assistance to other counties,” the judge said, “as long as it doesn’t drain you.”
Sheriff Zertuche said he believes La Salle stands to benefit by the agreement, as it will have access to the law enforcement resources offered in exchange.
“This agreement has gone back and forth between Bexar and La Salle County and our county attorney,” the sheriff said of the memorandum of understanding. “Bexar County expects to have three agencies on rotation for these investigations.
“This year alone, Bexar County has had a handful of custodial deaths,” the sheriff said. “Six at the jail, as per a report this month, for the year to date. If on rotation, we would be up there three or four times a year.
“If this starts putting a strain on our department, then we will part ways,” Zertuche said of the agreement with Bexar County. “I can’t afford to have officers up there all the time. But it’s right that we help each other.”
“I think it’s a good gesture, as long as it doesn’t overwhelm us,” the county judge said.
The motion to proceed with a memorandum of understanding between La Salle and Bexar county sheriffs’ offices, pending a letter of approval from County Attorney Elizabeth Martinez, was made by Comm. Erasmo Ramirez Jr., seconded by Comm. Raul Ayala and supported by Comms. Jack Alba and Noel Niavez.
The contract has a 90-day exit clause, allowing Zertuche to withdraw his investigators’ services if he wishes.