False: Cohen’s Claim to be EMT

HomeCity of AustinCity CouncilFalse: Cohen’s Claim to be EMT

District 3 candidate convicted of numerous crimes, Including burglary, two cases of family violence

Our background investigation of candidates for mayor and city council uncovered proof of numerous criminal offenses committed by District 3 City Council candidate Jessica Elizabeth Cohen. Most of the offenses were committed before changing her name in September 2004. The Austin Bulldog has chosen not to publish Cohen’s former name although it is contained in records linked at the bottom of this article.

Aside from the criminal record, Cohen has been peddling a false story regarding her experience as an emergency medical technician. The About page of her campaign website states, “I’ve been a public servant for 24 years, working to help Austinites as an EMT.”

After obtaining certification as an EMT in 1995, the name on the certification was later changed to Cohen and expired in 2003, said a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, who followed up on The Austin Bulldog’s public information request.

This is a photo of the lapel pin depicting the Fire Department Maltese Cross and the EMS Star of Life, worn by City Council candidate Jessica Cohen.
This is a photo of the lapel pin depicting the Fire Department Maltese Cross and the EMS Star of Life, worn by City Council candidate Jessica Cohen.

At candidate forums Cohen has continued to present a false front by wearing a lapel pin that features miniature flags of the EMS Star of Life and the Fire Department Maltese Cross.

At the candidate forum at Huston-Tillotson University October 16, Cohen said in her closing remarks, “I’ve been an EMT for 25 years. If I can save a life, these (city) problems are a lot less complicated.”

Cohen’s About webpage includes a photograph from the Austin American-Statesman that shows her helping to carry a victim of the lethal incident in which a driver ran down pedestrians during SXSW 2014.

In a telephone interview Monday, Cohen told The Austin Bulldog that the night of that incident she was working at a nightclub at 705 Red River Street. “I was running the lights at Elysium,” when word came that a driver had plowed down barriers and people. “I was an innocent bystander,” Cohen said. “They needed the help. It needed to be done. There were not enough people. I couldn’t stand by and not do anything.”

As for claiming to have been an EMT for 24 years? “Just because your certification expires, doesn’t mean you can’t work in the medical field,” Cohen said. “Just because you’re not working as an EMT doesn’t mean the knowledge is gone.”

Extensive criminal record

The following offenses were discovered in a criminal history search of records maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Houston August 15, 1989—Conviction for burglary of a motor vehicle, a Class A misdemeanor. Sentenced to 180 days confinement (deferred), fined $500 and given a year’s probation.

Houston March 6, 1990—Conviction for aggravated assault with serious bodily injury involving a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony. Received 10 years probation and was discharged from that status October 17, 1995.

Williamson County March 31, 2004—Conviction for assault of a family member causing bodily injury. The accompanying charge of interfering with an emergency call was dismissed as part of a plea bargain. Sentenced to a year’s probation, 80 hours of community service, and fined $250. Discharged from probation April 13, 2005.

Travis County November 16, 2005—In addition to the DPS records, in Travis County November 16, 2005, Cohen was convicted a theft by check for passing a check at HEB Grocery without a checking account. Bond was set at $3,000 and an arrest warrant was issued. Charges were dismissed after restitution was made.

Traffic offenses aplenty

From January 2005 through March 2014, Cohen racked up 20 traffic offenses in Travis and Bastrop counties, including citations for expired inspection stickers, failure to maintain financial responsibility, speeding, expired registration, and no driver’s license. Fourteen of those offenses resulted in warrants for her arrest. (For details, see the spreadsheet linked at the bottom of this story.)

Cohen says the traffic offenses were complicated by the fact that she was transgendered and poor. Even after changing her name, Cohen’s driver’s license would have a “gender marker” that did not align with her gender identity, she said.

“Back then it was easy to change your name but not the gender marker on your license,” Cohen said. “I was held on the side of the road three times while police argued over whether I should have a female officer search me. They called me an ‘it.’ ”

“I stopped showing my driver’s license,” Cohen said.

“I got a job at Cisco in 2012 and for the first time I had money to take care of those tickets. I was driving an old car, riding the bus. I was on food assistance. I was very poor and just couldn’t take care of (the tickets). The minute I had money I took care of it. Being poor, being homeless one of the hardest parts of my life after transitioning.”

Which caused Cohen to create a campaign platform based in part on the abolishment of municipal fines as a source of city revenue, a position directly informed by her own experiences.

“I’m not rich. I make just enough to get out of the hole. A lot of friends can’t afford to get out of that hole.”

Dropping out, supporting Renteria

“I think people have probably figured out this by now. I’m not the best candidate,” Cohen said. “My job was to point out the problems of lower income folks and (people who are) transgendered. I said at my first forum I’m in over my head. It’s definitely opened my eyes for sure.

“I’ve talked trash about some city council members. I regret that because their job is much, much harder than I thought. I don’t expect to get voted for to be honest.”

She said people with a checkered past are still people and “that’s an important message that needed to be sent.”

Although Cohen’s name will remain on the ballot, she said, “I’m going to support Pio (Sabino Renteria). “He’s the person I voted for last time.”


Chronological List of Offenses by Steven William Hurwitz and Jessica Elizabeth Cohen  (Excel spreadsheet)

Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal History for Steven Hurwitz and Jessica Cohen (4 pages)

Williamson County Criminal Docket, Assault with Bodily Injury, March 31, 2004  (5 pages)

Williamson County Criminal Docket, Interfere with Emergency Call, March 31, 2004 (6 pages)

Related Bulldog coverage:

No Gun, No Self-Defense: Lewis Conway Jr.’s widely reported version of why he killed a man at odds with public records and witness, October 25, 2018

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].

Who funds this work? This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help support this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.

An alphabetic list of donors who have contributed to The Austin Bulldog since the organization was formed in 2009 and the cumulative amount each person has given through September 25, 2018, are listed on the Contribute page.

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