Crime victims have been left in the dark for months due to a staffing shortage at the Nueces County District Attorney’s office.
Victims Assistance Coordinators are supposed to alert crime victims about developments in their cases. Formerly, there were two employees working in that department. One employee retired in December 2018, and the other is out of the office on medical leave until further notice. The office has been vacant for nearly three months.
KRIS 6 News has previously requested interviews with the DA’s office about the staffing shortage. Our requests have been repeatedly denied. Wednesday morning was the first time the issue has been addressed on camera.
Assistant District Attorney Matt Manning announced to County Commissioners that the District Attorney’s office has now hired a new coordinator.
Sharra Rodriguez has been chosen to fill that vacancy. She was formerly employed by the Children’s Advocacy Center and said she hopes to improve communication between victims, the District Attorney’s office, the Corpus Christi Police Department and a local women’s shelter, The Purple Door.
Crime victims believe that problem should have been resolved quicker.
“This is such a black eye on Nueces County and on the DA’s office,” Sharon Sedwick said during public comment at Wednesday’s meeting.
Sedwick understands the importance of having a liaison at the District Attorney’s office after her daughter Jennifer was murdered in 2005.
She shares that tragic commonality with Fallon Wood, whose daughter Breanna went missing in October 2016. Her body was found in January 2017.
Wood said her pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears.
“I left several messages. I never got any kind of anything. Nobody called me back,” Wood said. “So I finally myself went down there and sat at the DA’s office for 30 minutes waiting for somebody from the Crime Victims Department.”
Advocates argue the responsibility of communication should not fall at the feet of victims or their families.
“I don’t have time to wait for somebody to call me and let me know about a court date. I do it myself,” Wood said.
Manning offered an apology.
“Where we’ve missed a phone call, where we’ve missed an email, we will gladly take responsibility. We don’t make excuses in our office,” Manning said. “But I don’t want the public at large in any way to think that this is something that is dereliction of duty or apathy.”
While Nueces County has now hired a new coordinator, victims have questions about the time it took to fill the vacancy.
“What happened is one retired without any notice and just never returned, and obviously we had to go through the HR process to replace her,” Manning said.
However, KRIS 6 News has a copy of Rosa Maria Cervantes’ resignation letter announcing her retirement on December 31, 2018. That letter was dated more than two weeks before her departure.
Manning claimed that letter was never handed over to the District Attorney’s office by Human Resources.
Nueces County does have a 30-day hiring freeze in place when county employees resign. However, County Commissioners said that under urgent circumstances, the hiring process for a replacement can be fast-tracked.
“The HR process is in place, but it is something that can be expedited. The County Judge has the ability if any department head comes forward to say, ‘We have an emergency situation and we can’t live with the freeze,’” Precinct 4 Commissioner Brent Chesney said.
Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales exercised that authority more than two months ago.
“I was asked on January 8th, and on that very day, for this position, I did lift it,” Canales said. “So it was asked and it was answered.”
Chesney said he wants to hear more.
“I’m sure there’s a good reason and I’m not trying to pick on anyone. I appreciate the DA’s office being represented,” Chesney said, “But I really wish the DA himself would’ve been here, because I think the people need to hear from him to reassure them that this is being worked on.”
KRIS 6 News confirmed District Attorney Mark Gonzalez was in closing arguments of a capital murder trial at the time of Wednesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.
Commissioners asked that Gonzalez attend their next scheduled meeting, so he can offer insight on how he plans to manage operations within his office moving forward.