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Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff on Thursday completed his yearlong probation stemming from a 2016 charge of driving while intoxicated.
Although Wolff pleaded no contest to the charge and openly discussed his struggles with depression, anxiety, and alcohol use, Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood said he still has questions about how potential probation violations were handled in the case.
“I think I did exactly what I was supposed to do,” Wolff told the Rivard Report in a Tuesday interview. “[I] went through the system like anyone else would.”
LaHood disagreed, saying the court system handled Wolff’s potential violations – 25 missed Breathalyzer exams and a failed urinalysis – differently than the “vast majority” of similar cases.
“It appears that the [probation] process has been different for him,” LaHood told the Rivard Report Wednesday.
Wolff, 53, was arrested on July 31, 2016, after he rear-ended two vehicles in a Whataburger drive-through on San Pedro Avenue. He failed a sobriety test and was taken into custody where he declined a Breathalyzer. A blood sample showed Wolff’s blood alcohol concentration was at least 0.15 – nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08.
Wolff later acknowledged that he had mixed alcohol with antidepressant and blood pressure medications, and a prescription sleeping aid.
He pleaded no contest to the charge in March 2017 and shortly thereafter began his probation, which included a mandate to use a breath-alcohol monitor for six months.
County Court 4 Judge Jason Garrahan originally heard Wolff’s case. Garrahan, however, voluntarily recused himself in October 2017 when a supplemental report showed that Wolff had missed 24 Breathalyzer tests and failed a drug screening that August after testing positive for alcohol use. A January court document showed that Wolff missed another Breathalyzer test, bringing the total to 25.
Garrahan told the Rivard Report in January that he initially agreed to rule on the case because state prosecutors and Wolff’s defense attorney reached a plea deal that didn’t require Garrahan to issue a ruling.
“I’ve met Kevin Wolff before and I felt that … I should voluntarily recuse myself at that time because I didn’t want to have any type of inconsistencies in how I looked at the case,” Garrahan said in January.
Visiting Judge Timothy Johnson, a former County Court 5 judge and Bexar County Commissioner’s Court appointee who served as its first director of judicial services from 2009-2011, was assigned to oversee Wolff’s probation in October 2017.
LaHood told the Rivard Report in December that the missed Breathalyzer tests and failed urinalysis presented “a possible probation violation.” On Wednesday, LaHood said his office never received notice of a violation from Johnson or Wolff’s probation officer, Lelia Benshoof.
“We found out about them through the media,” LaHood said.
Only the district attorney’s office can file a motion to revoke probation. LaHood said probation officers typically inform the district attorney’s office of possible probation violations, and the district attorney then decides whether or not to file a motion to revoke with the presiding judge.
Jarvis Anderson, Bexar County’s director of community supervision and corrections department, told the Rivard Report on Thursday that Benshoof submitted the potential violation report directly to the court. Whether or not the probation officer gives notice of a possible violation to the district attorney’s office can depend on the severity of the original charge and other guidelines specific to the presiding judge.
“If it’s an egregious enough violation, the court requests that we file it with the State to get a motion to revoke actually in place,” Anderson said.
Johnson extended Wolff’s Breathalyzer-monitoring in response to the missed tests and failed urinalysis on Dec. 4, according to court documents. Anderson said Benshoof recommended that Johnson extend the breath-alcohol monitor mandate. LaHood said he did not file a motion to revoke probation after Johnson’s ruling because a decision had already been made.
Johnson declined to comment for this article. Benshoof did not return repeated calls requesting comment.
Wolff said he missed the Breathalyzer exams because his portable monitoring device began malfunctioning during a court-approved trip. He also maintained that he did not drink any alcohol during his probation, and that he failed a urinalysis because of an insufficient sample size that created a false positive.
Wolff said he didn’t feel he received any special treatment for being an elected official despite repeated accusations of such privilege, which came from members of the public and media.
“The only thing I’ve ever asked for is that … I don’t get treated any different than anyone else, and certainly to my knowledge I haven’t been,” Wolff said Tuesday. “I think you may find the opposite is true.”
Ernest Acevedo III, a defense lawyer in San Antonio specializing in DWI cases, said elected officials “almost always get treated worse” as their cases typically draw increased scrutiny from the public and media.
Wolff said on Tuesday that he had not made a commitment to completely abstain from drinking alcohol following the end of his probation.
“I don’t feel like I need to,” he said, adding, however, that he noticed that his health improved from staying sober during his probation, and that he enjoyed those benefits.
Wolff, the lone Republican Bexar County Commissioner for Precinct 3 first elected in 2005, said he plans to run for re-election in 2020 when his term expires.
“People elect us because they believe in us,” Wolff said. “I think that, even more than this particular incident, is all the encouragement I need to make sure things like this don’t happen [again.]”