Delayed booking of deputy constable at center of federal lawsuit

Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela, captain named in federal suit

SAN ANTONIO – A federal lawsuit filed Monday accuses Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela and one of her top administrators of violating the civil rights of two deputy constables within her agency, court records show.

The suit, which also names Bexar County as a defendant, was filed by Deputy constables Leonicio Moreno and Christopher De La Cerda and comes months after Moreno was arrested and subsequently cleared on allegations of aggravated perjury.

Moreno has filed to run for Precinct 2 constable in 2020, while De La Cerda serves as Moreno's campaign treasurer.

In January, after Barrientes Vela and Captain Marc Garcia learned Moreno had entered the 2020 race, they "conspired and engaged in conduct to deprive" Moreno and De La Cerda of their constitutional rights, according to the suit.

In late February, Moreno and De La Cerda were placed on leave for the duration of Moreno's campaign, the suit states.

Records attached to the suit indicate that De La Cerda was later returned to duty.

Then on April 30, Moreno was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated perjury, after being accused of filing two false EEOC complaints earlier this year.

Hours after Moreno was arrested, the charge was dismissed by prosecutors.

A Defenders investigation last month revealed the two deputy constables who took Moreno into custody delayed booking him for nearly a half-hour until the media could arrive.

Days later, during a disjointed new conference in front of the Bexar County Courthouse, Barrientes Vela said the delay in booking Moreno was much shorter than what synced up Bexar County Jail cameras showed.

She and Garcia claimed to have Automatic Vehicle Locator records disputing the video evidence, but nearly a month after the press conference, Precinct 2 officials have so far refused to hand over the records.

The suit states Moreno was falsely imprisoned and "held there against his will and with the unlawful use of force" during the arrest.

Barrientes Vela pointed out during the press conference that she has not yet made public whether she intends to run for another term, calling references to Moreno being her campaign opponent premature.

The Bexar County Elections website at last check did not have an affidavit for appointment of a treasurer for Barrientes Vela, the typical first step taken by someone applying for a countywide office.

The suit also states that both Moreno and De La Cerda were subjected to unfair disciplinary action after Moreno filed election paperwork.

Warrantless blood draw resurfaces

In April, a Defenders investigation revealed a 19-year-old woman involved in a car crash earlier this year had her blood drawn without Precinct 2 officials first obtaining a warrant.

The woman, Madison Huizar, was also nearly subjected to a cavity search, a sworn affidavit and EMS records show.

The suit filed Monday claims Huizar's constitutional rights, much like Moreno and De La Cerda's, were also violated during the incident.

Barrientes Vela did not respond to a request for comment emailed Monday afternoon.

A Bexar County spokeswoman said officials would most likely not be releasing a statement on the suit.

Will Allan, the attorney representing Moreno and De La Cerda, released the following statement Wednesday:

Constable Vela and Deputy Constable Garcia have demonstrated a tendency to abuse their offices and positions of trust. It is unfortunate that Constable Vela and Deputy Constable Garcia fail to fulfill their important duties to uphold the law. In fact, they disrespect the laws of the State of Texas and the United States Constitution. Bexar County was aware of these problems and had multiple opportunities to take action. Bexar County sat on its hands and did nothing. This lawsuit is necessary not only to protect our clients’ rights but also to ensure the citizens of Precinct 2 and Bexar County can exercise their constitutional rights without fear of reprisal. We look forward to proceeding with this lawsuit and having a jury comprised of fair and impartial citizens decide these very important issues that affect our community.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.