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:

Criminal Justice

The Tattooed Star of the ‘Progressive Prosecutor’ Movement Braces for His First Death Penalty Trial

Mark Gonzalez wants a jury to help him decide whether Nueces County should keep sending people to death row.

In mid-January 2017, a couple of days after Mark Gonzalez was sworn in as Nueces County’s new district attorney, a deputy prosecutor approached him to ask how the office should handle the Arturo Garza case. Garza, who has reportedly admitted … Read More


Abbott, Patrick, Bonnen Quietly Vote to Remove Slavery-Denying Plaque from Texas Capitol

“The reality is that plaque never should have gone up in the state Capitol in the first place, and it shouldn’t have taken 60 years to take it down,” state Representative Eric Johnson said.

Since the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville a year and a half ago, Texas officials have faced increasing demands to purge the statehouse of a plaque that says the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. On Friday, in … Read More

janice dotson, jail death
Criminal Justice

‘Ignored to Death’ in the Bexar County Jail

Janice Dotson-Stevens' death is another tragic example of how bad the criminal justice system is at dealing with mentally ill people who enter it.

by Michael Barajas January 4, 2019 – Three days after Christmas, family and friends of Janice Dotson-Stephens packed into pews inside the Lewis Funeral Home in San Antonio, mourning the 61-year-old great-grandmother’s death at the Bexar County jail earlier that … Read More

dallas shooting
Criminal Justice

Botham Jean’s Death Could Lead to an Overhaul of Police Oversight in Dallas

The outrageous shooting of a man in his own apartment has triggered calls to reform Dallas’ toothless, decades-old system of police oversight.

In the 1970s, the Dallas Police Department was pressured to diversify after a white cop killed a 12-year-old Mexican-American boy in a game of Russian Roulette. A string of police killings in the 1980s, including that of an 81-year-old crime … Read More

Criminal Justice

When Prison Reform Goes Bad

What happened to the Legislature's two-decade-old attempt to break the cycle of incarceration for low-level felons?

In the early 1990s, the Texas Legislature tried to build something surprisingly progressive amid the state’s tough-on-crime prison boom: an alternative to prison for low-level felons. Lawmakers reclassified a host of third-degree felony charges, mostly for drug and property crimes, … Read More

Criminal Justice

State-Sanctioned Secrecy Shields Texas’ Death Penalty Machine from Scrutiny

New revelations about the source of Texas’ execution drugs underscore the risks of capital punishment shrouded in secrecy.

Shortly before he died by lethal injection earlier this year, Anthony Shore, Houston’s infamous “tourniquet killer,” exclaimed that he felt a burning sensation. Later that month, condemned killer William Rayford reportedly grimaced and writhed on the gurney during his final … Read More

Ken Paxton

With Texas Court Ruling, Ken Paxton’s Felony Case May Fizzle

In a Thanksgiving-eve ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals defanged Paxton’s prosecutors, putting his felony prosecution in jeopardy.

In a Thanksgiving-eve ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals defanged Paxton’s prosecutors, putting his felony prosecution in jeopardy. Read More

Criminal Justice

New Contract Could Give Austin One of the Most Transparent Police Departments in the Country

Activists are claiming victory after a drawn-out fight over police accountability, and encouraging other cities to follow suit.

After 18 months of tense negotiations over a police union contract, the Austin City Council and the city’s police union have agreed to reforms that anti-police brutality activists say could turn the Austin Police Department into one of the most … Read More

Criminal Justice

Ken Paxton’s Strange Quest to Execute an Intellectually Disabled Man

Prosecutors have agreed to spare Bobby Moore’s life due to his intellectual disability. Texas’ highest criminal court and top legal official want to kill him anyway.

As a teenager, Bobby Moore couldn’t tell time. Before dropping out of school in the ninth grade, he was so far behind his peers that teachers told him to draw pictures rather than try to keep up with reading and … Read More