Policing for Justice
By Frank Garza
One of alumnus Daryl Harris’ favorite quotes comes from Charles Hamilton Houston, an attorney who played a role in dismantling the Jim Crow laws: “A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.”
As the recently appointed chief of the Civil Rights Division in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, it’s this mindset that guides him as his office investigates officer-involved shootings, injuries or deaths caused by law enforcement, and claims of excessive force.
Following the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minnesota, Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Joe Gonzales (J.D. ’88) formed the Civil Rights Division in January with two prosecutors, one investigator and one advocate/paralegal. By March, the legal team was reviewing six cases.
Harris (J.D. ’04) has been working for the DA’s Office since 2002. He started as an intern while still in law school. When a position opened, the then-Assistant District Attorney quickly tossed his hat in the ring.
Harris remembered watching coverage of the officers involved in the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and he closely followed the facts of the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri.
Harris understands that police work can be difficult, but it is important to conduct police business as appropriately as possible, he said.
Harris credits his understanding of criminal law to St. Mary’s University Professor of Law Geary Reamey, J.D., LL.M., with whom he still keeps in touch. They shared a common bond, both having served as officers in the U.S. Army.
“Daryl is and always has been more interested in the public service aspect of law, and so I think the position appealed to his desire to improve the system and to do some good and help society generally,” Reamey said.
Like Harris, Reamey also strives to make change in policing, and as part of the Members Consultative Group on the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law of Policing project, he and other criminal law experts tackle some of the hardest questions for which courts, legislatures and police most need guidance.
The project will include 14 chapters on several areas of policing, such as use of force and police questioning.
“My fondest hope is that this will be a useful guide for all of the important actors in the criminal justice system, that they can get a sense of the way policing ought to be done, that it will be thoughtful and that it will reflect the concerns of the law enforcement community and the needs of society,” said Reamey, who has also served as the legal adviser to the Irving Police Department.
Harris understands that emotions can run high with the types of cases his office investigates. Even so, he is prepared for the challenge. “Every district attorney’s office is mandated by law to see that justice is done. It’s in that spirit that Joe started this division and approach,” Harris said. “We are going to be as thorough as we can, and as open and disclosing of how we get to our results.”