Michael Barajas

Michael Barajas is a staff writer covering civil rights for the Observer. Before joining the Observer, he was editor of the San Antonio Current and managing editor of the Houston Press. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. You can reach him on Twitter or at [email protected].

By Michael Barajas:


Texas Republicans Poised to Make Voting ‘Harder, Scarier and More Confusing’

SB 9’s passage out of committee Friday sets the stage for a heated debate over voting rights in the waning days of the session.

A bill raising criminal penalties for certain election-related offenses and imposing new voting restrictions cleared a major hurdle Friday, setting the stage for yet another floor debate over voter suppression at the Texas Legislature. On a party line vote, the … Read More

elsa alcala, texas defender service, death penalty
Criminal Justice

The Dissenter

Texas’ highest criminal court turned Elsa Alcala into one of the state’s most prominent death penalty critics.

Elsa Alcala began her legal career in the Harris County DA’s office, joining a prosecutorial machine famous for cranking out death sentences. Three decades later, she’s a prominent critic of the death penalty. Alcala, a Republican, says serving as an … Read More

sandra bland
Criminal Justice

Four Years Later, Sandra Bland’s Arrest Continues to Sow Distrust in Law Enforcement

New reporting shows that Sandra Bland recorded her infamous 2015 arrest. Authorities never told her grieving family.

After Sandra Bland’s death in the Waller County jail became a national scandal, former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia struggled to justify her ugly roadside arrest. While Encinia had only stopped Bland for a simple traffic violation … Read More

Criminal Justice

Immune from Justice

The Legislature appears unlikely to close a loophole that allows prosecutors to fire subordinates for refusing to illegally withhold evidence.

Eric Hillman thought the law was clear when he discovered new evidence that could help the man he was prosecuting in 2014. Then a prosecutor in the Nueces County DA’s office, Hillman was investigating the case of David Sims, a … Read More

Criminal Justice

The Big Blue Obstacle to Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform

In the era of right-on-crime-backed efforts to curb mass incarceration, police unions have increasingly become a voice in the wilderness.

Jack Michael Ule’s death inside the Bexar County jail on April 18 struck a nerve. Arrested two weeks earlier for criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor, Ule appeared to be homeless and had no other criminal record in Bexar County. … Read More

Dallas County DA John Creuzot
Criminal Justice

Dallas County DA John Creuzot Calls New Reforms ‘A Step Forward in Ending Mass Incarceration’

The policies announced Thursday range from refusing to prosecute certain drug cases to reforming probation and changing how the office handles crimes related to poverty and homelessness.

Last year, Dallas was ground zero in the national movement to elect prosecutors willing to help shrink the bloated carceral state. The race for Dallas County DA pitted Democrat John Creuzot, a former judge who pioneered programs to put drug … Read More

Criminal Justice

The Sandra Bland Act Was Stripped of the Provision That Could’ve Prevented Her Arrest. Now It Has a Chance.

“I believe this is the legislative session that we come together, in bipartisan fashion, to pass a bill to prohibit this practice that can have life-altering consequences,” one lawmaker said.

On July 10, 2015, on a quiet road near Prairie View A&M University, a hot-headed state trooper stopped Sandra Bland for changing lanes without a turn signal. The simple traffic violation and Class C misdemeanor is supposed to be punishable … Read More


Congressional Democrats are Investigating Texas’ Targeting of Naturalized Citizen Voters

A congressional oversight committee is probing acting Secretary of State David Whitley’s flawed voter purge, as well as allegations of voter suppression in two other states.

Democrats in Congress are investigating Texas officials’ targeting of tens of thousands of naturalized citizen voters earlier this year. The investigation is part of a larger probe by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform into allegations of voter … Read More

Criminal Justice

A Tale of Two Prison Systems

Scandals led to increased transparency for Texas’ juvenile lockups. When will lawmakers demand the same for the state’s adult prisons?

Early in the morning on February 22, Jeffrey Jelinski, a 58-year-old serving prison time for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, died at the state’s LeBlanc Unit in Beaumont. A few days later, Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas … Read More