Barrientes Vela accused of sex discrimination in latest lawsuit filed by deputy constable

Suit sheds light on Galveston hot tub incident

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SAN ANTONIO – For the second time in nine months, an incident in a Galveston hot tub during a 2017 work conference is at the center of an employment lawsuit filed against Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela.

The suit, filed in district court Sept. 3 by Precinct 2 Deputy Constable Chris De La Cerda, claims that Barrientes Vela retaliated against him and another deputy constable from the agency, Leonicio Moreno, after Moreno refused sexual overtures from Barrientes Vela.

The suit claims that De La Cerda was in a hot tub with Barrientes Vela and Moreno during the incident in question.

READ MORE: Lawsuit accuses Precinct 2 constable of trying to caress deputy in hot tub during work trip

The suit seeks between $200,000 and $1 million in damages, and is the latest civil filing against the embattled first-term constable.

In July, Moreno and De La Cerda sued Barrientes Vela and one of her top administrators in federal court, accusing them of violating their civil rights

That lawsuit came less than three months after Moreno was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated perjury. He was accused of filing two false U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints earlier this year.

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

RELATED: Precinct 2 deputies delayed booking of constable's political opponent

A Defenders investigation in June revealed that fellow deputies delayed booking Moreno for nearly a half-hour, until the media arrived at the scene.

Moreno is one of Barrientes Vela's opponents for Precinct 2 Constable in the upcoming 2020 election. De La Cerda is listed on Moreno's election paperwork as his campaign treasurer.

Tumultuous work relationship

In January 2018, months after the hot tub incident, Barrientes Vela accused De La Cerda and Moreno of falsifying agency training records.

The two deputy constables were terminated two months later but won back their jobs following a June 2018 civil service hearing.

The lawsuit filed this month claims that Barrientes Vela fired De La Cerda a second time, this year, after accusing him of being dishonest about a Family and Medical Leave Act absence.

Late last year, after the filing of the first hot tub lawsuit, Barrientes Vela released a statement claiming she had witnesses who could disprove Moreno's version of what happened.

Barrientes Vela responded to a request for comment late Tuesday evening with the following statement:

Michelle Barrientes Vela response 9/10/19

About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. He provides restaurant health reports for KSAT's "Behind the Kitchen Door." Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.