Texas judge expunges truancy records in accordance with new law

With a click of the mouse, Williamson County Justice of the Peace Bill Gravell expunged 2,208 records for people who’ve wound up with truancy-related criminal charges over the past 20 years, giving them “another shot of life,” he said.

Terra Tucker, policy analyst for Sen. John Whittier, and Judge Bill Gravell expunge criminal truancy records in Williamson County.
Terra Tucker, policy analyst for Sen. John Whitmire, and Judge Bill Gravell expunge criminal truancy records on his courtroom computer in Williamson County.

When Texas lawmakers discussed several bills to decriminalize truancy during the 84th legislative session, they heard often from Gravell, who initially opposed changes to the 1995 law. Gravell’s program was plenty successful, he would say, indicating he didn’t need the state’s help in keeping kids in school.

The bill, HB 2398, eventually passed and became law, making truancy a civil matter. On Thursday, as he sat before a table covered with baskets of the records-to-be-destroyed, he called the new law the “best piece of legislation possible.”

A bailiff walks near baskets of records that Judge Bill Gravell ordered to be destroyed in accordance with a new truancy law.
A bailiff walks near baskets of records that Judge Bill Gravell ordered to be destroyed in accordance with a new truancy law.

Previously, students who racked up 10 unexcused absences in six months could have faced a Class C misdemeanor. In 2014, nearly 100,000 students fell in that category. The new law – effective Tuesday – directs courts to expunge those charges.

Texas Appleseed Executive Director Deborah Fowler, who worked with Gravell and others to craft the bill, said her organization is watching how courts address the expunction portion of the law and praised Gravell’s actions.

“We’re pleased to see that some of the most vocal opponents have really come around,” she said. 

Fowler called the mass release from criminal convictions “unprecedented,” noting about 100,000 students were criminally charged each year for the past 10 years.

In addition to the expunctions, Gravell cleared three outstanding truancy cases, dismissed 100 outstanding truancy warrants, lifted suspensions on driver’s licenses for 87 students and waived collections for 16 people who owed the county fees.

Use of force in Bexar County shooting under review

UPDATE: Click here to read Bexar County Sheriff’s Office’s use of force policy. Sheriff Susan Pamerleau has said that the two deputies used a shield and Taser to attempt to detain Gilbert Flores, struggling with him for about 20 minutes before shots were fired.

PREVIOUS POST: The two Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputies who shot and killed 41-year-old Gilbert Flores both took a “use of force” class last year, according to records released by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

DocumentTCOLE also said it had never suspended the peace officer licenses for Robert Sanchez, 51, a 25-year veteran of the department, or Greg Vasquez, 47, who’d been with Bexar County for 12 years.

(View their TCOLE files here: Robert SanchezGreg Vasquez).

Questions about the officers’ use of force were raised by the Federal Bureau of Investigations after a local news station posted a bystander’s video that appears to show Flores holding up at least one hand while being shot.

Local officials like County Judge Nelson Wolff have also brought up the issue. Vasquez and Sanchez were responding to a domestic disturbance in which two people were wounded, and the sheriff’s office has said they believed Flores was holding a knife.

“I think everybody’s concerned about this, the use of force. We’ve seen so many incidents around the country,” Wolff told The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “That’s why we want to review the policy see if there’s a way to strengthen it, increase training.”