The presiding criminal judge for Travis County revealed for the first time Wednesday that members of the county’s judiciary were never informed of a potential threat made shortly before the attempted assassination of their colleague state District Judge Julie Kocurek.
“We are very disheartened and disturbed to learn our security isn’t taken more seriously, so at least we could be on the lookout and able to take care of ourselves,” state District Judge Brenda Kennedy told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV. “We just weren’t told, period. It’s like having a bomb threat on a building and them keeping it to themselves.”
The information about the threat flowed from the Travis County district attorney’s office, which received the initial tip, to the sheriff’s office, which provides courthouse security. But a sheriff’s spokesman confirmed Wednesday that officers didn’t alert the judges because the report didn’t name a specific judge.
The revelation highlights a potentially significant communication gap between investigators who received information about threats and the possible targets. Kennedy said judges think the lack of information placed them at risk.
The Statesman reported days after the shooting attack against Kocurek that the Travis County district attorney’s office had received a generic threat against an unnamed judge. This week, newly obtained court documents provided more details, saying the girlfriend of Chimene Onyeri, a person of interest in Kocurek’s shooting, reported two weeks before the attack that he planned to kill a judge.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg has said two investigators — both esteemed retired Austin police homicide detectives — thoroughly looked into the threat but were hindered by a lack of additional information. She has said her office passed details to officers who provide courthouse security, which is the protocol for her office.
Travis County sheriff’s office spokesman Roger Wade said that, because the information was limited, “We are not going to alarm people unnecessarily.”
Kennedy said judges want to be notified and should have been.
“There has been no apology, no explanation other than they deemed it was unfounded,” Kennedy said. “There has been no expression of regret, no acknowledgement there was a step missed in the process.”
Several other criminal district judges contacted Wednesday didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Kocurek was shot Nov. 5 outside her Tarrytown home. Sources have said the shooter placed a trash bag in front of a gate on the side of her home, requiring the driver of Kocurek’s vehicle to stop and move it. She was shot as she sat in the front passenger seat, seriously injuring her.
After the attack, Onyeri’s girlfriend called the district attorney’s office several times, repeating her story and telling them she had heard secondhand that Onyeri had spoken with a man named Calvin Green Jr. about the attack and his plans to get rid of the evidence, a search warrant for Onyeri’s property said.
Onyeri has a pending matter in Kocurek’s court that would have him sent to prison if his probation in a 2012 Rollingwood case involving stolen credit cards were revoked. Onyeri, who was born in the U.S., was identified as a member of a Nigerian crime ring in that case.
Kocurek is still recovering at a hospital. She filed for re-election to the 390th District Court but hasn’t returned to the bench.
On Wednesday, judges met with courthouse officials to talk about additional security for judges both at work and at home, but officials declined to comment further about those plans.