EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Embattled District Attorney Yvonne Rosales agreed to resign from office effective 5 p.m. December 14, following months of scandals that dominated her less than two-year tenure at the helm of the 34th Judicial District of Texas.
The agreement was made in the 346th Court Monday afternoon when a 1 p.m. hearing was delayed nearly an hour and a half as County Attorney JoAnne Bernal and Rosales’ new attorney, Richard Ramon, agreed to terms of her resignation.
The District Attorney was scheduled to appear in person Monday but failed to appear. Instead, Judge Tryon Lewis ordered her to appear via telephone, where she verbally agreed to the terms of her resignation.
Rosales agreed to immediately hand over the functions of her office to First District Attorney George Al Hanna until the end of her term. Under the agreement, Rosales must still submit her resignation to Governor Greg Abbott.
As part of the terms of the agreement, Rosales forfeited her right to a jury trial should she not comply with the terms of her resignation date.
Rosales was elected in the November 2020 election and assumed her role as the first-ever Latina District Attorney in El Paso history in January 2021. The district also includes all of Hudspeth and Culberson Counties.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott will now be tasked with appointing a District Attorney to fill the remainder of Rosales’ term through 2024.
Rosales faced a removal trial after County Attorney JoAnne Bernal filed an Intent to Proceed with a removal case that local attorney Omar Carmona initially filed on August 24, 2022.
More than 850 misdemeanor and felony cases were dismissed after the Public Defender’s office filed several rounds of dismissal hearings for cases Rosales’ office failed to indict in 180 days, prescribed in section 32.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
Chief Public Defender Kelli Childress told KTSM in early November that their office had agreed with the District Attorney’s Office to refrain from filing additional 32.01 motions pending a redoubling effort within the DA’s office to file indictments in a timely manner. At the time, Childress said she was in regular communication with the DA’s office and was satisfied with their progress.
Upon entering her new role as District Attorney, Rosales required previous staff under former District Attorney Jaime Esparza’s tenure to reapply for their jobs, as is common when a new DA is elected. However, a KTSM report in 2021 detailed the strained relationship between Rosales and many who remained in their positions or were hired after she began her tenure.
In her first 11 months in office, more than 20 staff members left their positions in the District Attorney’s Office. The departures included division chiefs, senior trial attorneys, and a director of the victim assistance program.
Departing employees hinted at a significant concern about leadership in the office and how the office’s top employees interacted with staff in exit interviews obtained as part of KTSM’s reporting.
Angie Castillo, director of the victim assistance program, began working in the office in January 2021. But seven months later, she notified her supervisors that she was resigning even without another job.
“It should say a lot about morale that I felt I needed to leave even with no job to go to,” she wrote in an exit interview. “Elected official and her top management could have treated me with respect. Not seen me as a difficult person because I was willing to stand up for my employees and to call out behavior or words that are inappropriate in the workplace.”
Following the 2021 KTSM report, several additional high-profile departures dominated headlines. On August 24, John Briggs, lead prosecutor for the Walmart massacre trial, was fired. He later testified under oath that he was let go just days after bringing up concerns to his supervisors over a series of e-mails purportedly sent by the family of a Walmart victim’s family to members of the media. Briggs testified that he believed people inside the DA’s office were responsible for the e-mails. He claims he was let go just days later.
At the time of his departure, Briggs was also the lead prosecutor against Facundo Chavez, the man accused of murdering El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Herrera during a traffic stop in 2019.
“My sister has made many attempts to reach out to a few people nobody has been returning her calls,” Paulina Hijar, Deputy Herrera’s aunt, told KTSM following Briggs’ departure.
Special Prosecutor Monica Barron-Auger resigned from her position within the DA’s office the same day Briggs was let go. She started her role on July 11, 2022, under grant funding provided by Governor Abbott to secure special prosecutors on the Walmart case. Her tenure lasted just six weeks.
On September 13, Assistant District Attorney Rene Flores submitted his resignation. Flores was handling the murder trial against Tristan Chilton, one of five defendants accused of brutally slaying Combat Veteran Tyler Croke inside his East El Paso apartment in 2017. Chilton’s trial was initially set to begin on October 13 but was granted a continuance by Judge Marcos Lizarraga following Flores’ departure.
“I mean, I could be wrong. Maybe there’s somebody in the DA’s office that has experience handling Capital Murder cases, but at this time, I don’t have any faith in them whatsoever,” Tyler Croke’s mother, Kjersten Croke, told KTSM.
November 3, Assistant District Attorney Curtis Cox, who replaced Briggs as the lead prosecutor on the Walmart case, also submitted his resignation to the District Attorney’s Office. In a letter addressed to Judge Sam Medrano, Cox directed the court to submit all further communication personally to DA Rosales.
Sources provided KTSM with a photograph of Cox’s office door upon his departure from the DA’s office. Cox allegedly taped a written sign to his door, reading in Latin, “Si vis Pacem, para Bellum,” translated to “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
Carmona’s initial removal petition cited the July 1, 2022, gag order issued by Judge Sam Medrano. However, since Carmona’s filing, there have been several developments.
Following a series of emails sent to the media by an individual purporting to be the family of slain Walmart victim Alexander Hoffmann, on August 4, local Attorney Justin Underwood was appointed to represent the family.
In the emails, the author attacked former Assistant District Attorney Amanda Enriquez, who was rumored to be eyeing a run at the DA’s seat in the 2024 election. The author also strongly criticized Judge Sam Medrano.
“In response to the statements made by Amanda Enríquez in the news articles on August 3 and 4, 2022, my family and I would like the media and the community to know she is using this case for political purposes. HOW DARE SHE,” the email stated, referring to Enriquez’s interview airing August 3 on KVIA.
The email calls Enriquez “unprofessional, inadequate and cold,” stating that Enriquez violated the gag order by Judge Sam Medrano on July 1.
Enriquez is not subject to the gag order because she is no longer a party to the case after leaving the DA’s office in December 2020.
In a joint effort to obtain records from the District Attorney’s office, KTSM and El Paso Matters confirmed that the media list used in the Hoffmann e-mails matches the media contact list used for the District Attorney’s Office distribution list.
Judge Medrano scheduled a hearing regarding the emails. However, before the hearing, District Attorney Rosales filed motions to remove Medrano as Judge, citing bias against the prosecution.
Ultimately, Judge Sid Harle case ruled against removing Judge Medrano from the Walmart case, allowing him to move forward with hearings.
In an Ad Litem report filed on October 6, 2022, Underwood alleges Rosales’ attorney, Roger Rodriguez, intimidated the Hoffmann family. Underwood’s report indicates that the Hoffmanns believed Rodriguez was an employee of the DA’s office or acting on her behalf.
His report also included several recordings by the Hoffmanns of conversations with Roger Rodriguez, who was unaware he was being recorded.
The DA’s office has been unable to publicly comment or refute Underwood’s report due to the gag order on the case.
Defense attorneys for Patrick Crusius filed a response on Thursday, November 10, claiming their process server attempted to serve District Rosales with a subpoena to appear at a scheduled hearing on November 30th more than 15 times to no avail. The court documents also claim multiple attempts to locate former ADA Curtis Cox and Vinton Municipal Judge Roger Rodriguez were unsuccessful.
In their court filing, attorneys Joe Spencer, Felix Valenzuela, and Mark Stevens accuse the District Attorney of violating their client’s Constitutional Rights. They claim the U.S. Constitution requires that “extraordinary measures” be taken to ensure their defendant is given a trial guaranteeing a death sentence not be used out of “whim, passion, prejudice, or mistake.”
“Yet, despite this extraordinarily heightened standard of procedure, process, and action, the Duly-Elected District Attorney has misguided, misled, and misdirected the Honorable Court, thereby trampling on the Constitutional rights of Defendant,” the court response said.
Judge Medrano has scheduled a hearing on November 30, 2022. It is unclear whether Judge Medrano will impose any penalties for the possible violation of the gag order in the case.