Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report
Joined by dozens of supporters on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse, Nicholas “Nico” LaHood announced Tuesday he would seek re-election as Bexar County district attorney.
“Four years is not enough to make a difference in a justice system that is so big,” LaHood told reporters following the announcement. “I want to continue the trend that we’re doing to fight child abuse, to try and lower violent crime rates. It’s not easy – sex trafficking is huge. We have lost children [to abuse]. There’s so much to do.”
LaHood first ran for the office in 2010. In 2014, he ousted 16-year incumbent Susan Reed. When he beat Reed, a Republican, LaHood painted himself as a fresh Democratic alternative and pushed a progressive stance on drug rehabilitation.
To date, LaHood said his most “cherished accomplishment” is establishing the Child Abuse Unit, which focuses on the prosecution of felony child abuse cases.
“In 2014, the year before we took office, this office saw 47 trials for child abuse cases with a 57% conviction rate,” LaHood said. “In 2015, our first year in office, there were 87 trials with a 70% conviction rate. In 2016, there were 81 trials with a 71% conviction rate. My hope is that you see our efforts and see the change that is being done in this office. We are making strides every day.”
LaHood’s role as district attorney has not come without controversy. Leading up to his winning bid in 2014, LaHood received $1.2 million in campaign contributions from Thomas J. Henry, a personal injury attorney from Corpus Christi. LaHood has been criticized for having a strong temper, for threatening to “shut down” the practices of two local defense attorneys, and for publicly promoting the movement against immunizations.
“Vaccines can and do cause autism,” he stated in his appearance in the anti-vaccination documentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.” LaHood’s son Michael is autistic and one of the reasons he felt compelled to speak out, LaHood said.
“There are some people out there who have an opinion that I’m rough around the edges or that I speak a little too boldly,” LaHood said Tuesday. “Those people are entitled to their opinion, but there are other people who see the need for a district attorney that does not play politics, says what he means, and means what he says.”
To his potential challengers, LaHood said this: “Just do it for the right reasons. I can’t stand politics. If anybody does decide to do this, then have a good argument for it because it’s going to be a hard argument to say that we’ve done something terribly wrong compared to the last administrations.”
Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff both attended Tuesday’s announcement and endorsed LaHood’s bid for reelection. Henry also was present, along with local businessman and San Antonio Water System Board Chairman Heriberto “Berto” Guerra Jr.
“No one that I’ve heard of – Democrat or Republican – has challenged LaHood,” Medina said. “Filing starts Nov. 11 and continues through Dec. 11.”
Wolff mentioned working with LaHood on the “tremendous opioid crisis” and added that LaHood is currently reviewing several law firms to sue pharmaceutical companies for fueling the addiction crisis.
“We’ve formed a pretty good team over the years, and we’ve really stepped forward on some of the child abuse and neglected cases,” Wolff told the Rivard Report. “He’s prosecuted a lot more of them and got them convicted. He’s worked with us on helping to stabilize families through the children’s court. He’s done everything we can to move the cases forward, which is important because justice delayed is justice denied.”
In making his announcement, LaHood made several references to Bible verses and began and ended the press conference with a prayer. LaHood’s wife, Davida, took the podium and cried as she recounted the struggles of raising her children, especially Michael.
“It can be very difficult sometimes, but I am grateful because of the support I have because I couldn’t do it by myself,” she said. “They know their papi is working hard hours not only for our family to be safe, but to make it safer for all our families in our community – including yours.”
LaHood enumerated several achievements while he’s been in office, such as establishing the Conviction Integrity Unit, which investigates claims of wrongful convictions.
“No matter who you are or where you come from or what you do, you’ll be treated fairly,” LaHood said. “If you’ve been victimized, we’re going to get justice for you. If you’ve been accused, you’re going to be treated fairly, but be held accountable.”
Another highlight of his tenure so far, LaHood said, was implementing the Domestic Violence Task Force, which focuses removing repeat offenders from homes and implementing misdemeanor and felony pre-trial diversion programs for low-level, nonviolent offenders. This gives nonviolent offenders an opportunity for a clean record, provided they comply with the requirements of the program and stay out of trouble.
“In 2016, we increased the staff by 10 paralegals, six legal secretaries, and two criminal investigators,” LaHood said. “For this fiscal year, thanks to the trust and focus of our [Bexar County] Commissioner’s Court, we have secured the funding to add three more prosecutors, two additional paralegals, and one more investigator.”
LaHood wants to establish greater trust between law enforcement and the community and increase penalties for serial abusers targeting children, the elderly, and the disabled.
“The DA’s office is the nucleus of the justice system, but it’s not the complete justice system,” LaHood said. “So we want to continue to work with our partners both in the justice system and advocates around the justice system to make a difference.”