A man has been charged with capital murder following a Tuesday series of attacks that left six people dead in Austin and San Antonio, Texas, garnering criticism for the bail reform group that freed him when he was previously jailed for domestic violence.
Shane James Jr., 34, was bonded out of Bexar County Jail in March 2022 by Laquita Garcia, the statewide policy coordinator for the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), jail records obtained by KSAT show.
He had been arrested that January for alleged domestic violence against his parents and a sibling and had also been discharged from the U.S. Army in 2015 due to another domestic violence-related issue.
TOP routinely bonds out accused criminals, freeing as many as 25 to 30 Bexar County Jail inmates per month on bonds totaling $5,000 or less, a law enforcement source told the outlet.
Warrants for James’s re-arrest were issued shortly after TOP bonded him out, and he cut off his ankle monitor the day following his release, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar confirmed Wednesday.
The sheriff also confirmed that deputies were called to James’s San Antonio-area home in a separate August 2023 “mental health” incident, but they “left the residence without taking him into custody on the misdemeanor warrants to avoid a potential violent confrontation,” according to KSAT.
Just a few months later, police say James went on an hours-long killing spree throughout the area while having three pending cases for the alleged assault on his family members.
Salazar identified two adults found dead of gunshot wounds in the suspect’s residence as Shane Matthew James Sr., 56, and Phyllis James, 55 — the parents of the alleged mass killer.
Police believe they were killed sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning.
After allegedly killing his parents, James traveled about an hour and a half away to Austin, where he was accused of attacking more people.
Austin Police Department Interim Chief Robin Henderson said her department received a call at 10:43 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time) that a school district police officer had been shot at Northeast Early College High School, BBC reported.
The north Austin school subsequently went on lockdown, and the officer “sustained non-life-threatening injuries,” according to KSAT.
Another shooting later that morning claimed the lives of a man and woman further south in Austin, Henderson said. The victims were named as Sabrina Rahman, 24, and Emmanuel Pop Ba, 32, by the Austin-American Statesman.
Family members confirmed to the publication that Rahman was pushing her one-year-old baby in a stroller when she was fatally shot.
A male cyclist was also shot that afternoon, though he survived and is reportedly in stable condition.
Austin police were frantically working on trying to figure out who shot the seemingly random people that evening when they were called to a home for an ongoing burglary, where they found James in the backyard.
The suspect “immediately opened fire” on the responding officers, Henderson said.
Officials said one officer was shot multiple times but is in stable condition, but two more unnamed victims were found dead inside the home.
Police said James then led officers on a car chase, finally getting caught when he crashed his vehicle eight hours after the first Austin shooting took place.
APD Releases Booking Photo of Suspect Involved in Multiple Incidents on December 5, 2023
Suspect: Shane James, White male, 34 years of age pic.twitter.com/lBIxrpRtVH
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) December 6, 2023
All in all, six people were killed, and three were injured.
While law enforcement did not initially think the shootings across San Antonio and Austin were connected, they now believe James was the sole perpetrator.
“An important thing to note, these incidents did not take place in one specific area of Austin, and the initial evidence we had did not show any similarities,” the Austin Police Department (APD) said in a press release Wednesday. “The Austin Police Department takes the safety of our community seriously, but we must do our due diligence to ensure the information we share is done in a timely and accurate manner.”
Police said an active shooter alert was not sent out to residents because Tuesday’s incidents were “not an active shooting event.”
“This was a series of events which took place in several different locations across the city with various or unknown motives and no specific commonality,” the department said. “It is not common practice for APD, or any other law enforcement agency, to issue any sort of alert for every shooting that happens in their jurisdiction with an unidentified shooter.”
APD said James Jr. has been charged with murder in relation to the four killings in Austin, with murder charges for the San Antonio slayings expected to be filed in the coming days, BBC reported.
The outlet noted that “he is expected to face other charges as well” for his alleged heinous crimes.
Backlash began pouring in on social media for the circumstances leading up to the killings, with the nation’s largest police union slamming the “woke” criminal justice system.
“According to reports the dirtbag who committed these heinous acts was out on 3 family violence bonds. Just another case of the woke revolving door criminal justice system failing and people paying with lives,” the National Fraternal Order of Police said on X.
Please keep the 6 people murdered, their families and the two officers shot in your thoughts and prayers.
According to reports the dirtbag who committed these heinous acts was out on 3 family violence bonds. Just another case of the woke revolving door criminal justice system…
— National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) (@GLFOP) December 6, 2023
TOP released a statement Wednesday evening saying the organization was “saddened” by the killing spree and that it would conduct a review of its bail program moving forward.
The group, which boasts of organizing “Black and Latino communities to build political power,” said it was “profoundly saddened and deeply troubled by the recent tragic events involving Shane James.”
“We condemn his most recent egregious acts, full stop. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the victims and their families during this incredibly difficult time,” TOP continued before recounting its involvement in James’s case and committing to remain “steadfast” in its mission.
Through our justice program, we bailed out James in coordination with the Bexar County’s public defender’s office, nearly two years ago in February 2022 on misdemeanor charges where his bond fees totaled $300. The events that have unfolded are devastating, and we recognize the pain and suffering this incident has caused. We take our responsibilities seriously and acknowledge that we must address both the immediate impact of this tragedy and the broader implications for our bail program. TOP was founded with a commitment to transforming Texas into a state that works for everyone. A piece of our work is reforming the criminal justice system, advocating for fairness, and providing support to those who have often been marginalized and underserved. We firmly believe in the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and our mission is to ensure that individuals have the opportunity to address their legal challenges while awaiting trial in a just and equitable manner. We want to make clear that TOP has a thorough and rigorous screening process in place to assess individuals who are eligible for our bail program, with a focus on assisting with misdemeanor offenses. James was deemed eligible based on our criteria at the time. However, TOP has had no interaction with James since March 2022. We acknowledge that our assessments cannot anticipate the future actions of individuals. We are committed to conducting a comprehensive internal review of our program and processes. We understand that some may try to use this tragedy to criticize bail programs, even for misdemeanors. We remain steadfast in our commitment to our mission, advocating for the rights and representation of all Texans. Additionally, we are acutely aware of the urgent need to address gun violence as an endemic issue in Texas and across the United States. We can’t ignore the larger context in which incidents like these occur. Our commitment to transforming our state and nation’s criminal justice system includes advocating for sensible gun control measures and community safety initiatives that can help prevent tragedies.
TOP provided campaign support to both Sheriff Salazar and Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, KSAT reported.
“They provided a service that they had to put a dollar amount on,” Gonzales said, referring to door-to-door canvassing services provided by TOP that appeared on his campaign finance reports.
TOP also canvassed on behalf of Salazar and sponsored an event for $1,500, campaign finance records show.
Salazar, who initially declined to answer questions from KSAT about the group’s support of his election, eventually addressed the concerns in a press conference.
“There’s nothing for me to refund. They didn’t do anything wrong in helping this gentleman exercise his right to bond. I don’t regret anybody supporting me,” the sheriff said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) praised law enforcement and grieved “for the loved ones of the six Texans who were murdered” in a Wednesday statement.
“Texans grieve for the loved ones of the six Texans who were murdered by a hardened criminal who must never see the light of day again. The murderer also shot two law enforcement officers in the line of duty,” Abbott said, continuing:
Texas is a law-and-order state, and violence will never be tolerated. We thank all state and local law enforcement and first responders who apprehended this criminal and protected their communities. The State of Texas will provide all resources necessary to impose the full weight of law on this criminal for his despicable crimes.
He went on to ask his fellow Texans to “join us in lifting up in prayer the families and loved ones of those who were killed, as well as the Texans who are recovering from injuries, including an Austin Police Officer and an Austin Independent School District police officer.”
Texans grieve for the loved ones of 6 Texans murdered by a hardened criminal who must never see the light of day again.
Cecilia and I pray also for the recovery of those injured, including two brave police officers.
Thank you to law enforcement who apprehended this criminal. pic.twitter.com/rZM82EKgdG
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 6, 2023
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris used the situation to advocate for gun control, with the Democrat president urging Republicans to help progressives ban assault rifles and pass other “common sense” gun laws.
“We must do more to prevent more families, and more communities like Austin, San Antonio, and Las Vegas, from being ripped apart by gun violence,” Biden’s statement, obtained by the Austin-American Statesman, said.
“This year alone, our nation has experienced more than 600 mass shootings, and approximately 40,000 deaths due to gun violence. This is not normal, and we can never let it become normal,” Biden said.
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Harris’s statement, released from the White House, said, “Congress must make background checks universal, pass red flag laws, and renew the assault weapons ban.”
“It is past time. In the meantime, President Biden and I will use every tool we have to urgently advance commonsense gun safety policies and save lives, including through the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention,” she added. “There is not a moment to spare, nor a life to spare.”