SAN ANTONIO – When Michelle Barrientes Vela appears before a state district judge on Feb. 26, her campaign for Bexar County Sheriff will be eight days into early voting and she’ll have the legal team of a former district attorney.
Barrientes Vela is providing a rare Bexar County juxtaposition of a person running for a powerful office while trying to simultaneously beat serious criminal charges.
Barrientes Vela, the former Precinct 2 constable who was removed from office in October, was indicted January 23 on charges ranging from felony perjury and tampering with evidence to misdemeanor official oppression.
It was the culmination of a nearly nine-month criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers, with assistance from the FBI, into Barrientes Vela’s controversial tenure in office.
Her former captain, Marc Garcia, was also indicted on a felony charge of perjury and three counts of official oppression, and is scheduled to make an appearance in the same court on the same day as Barrientes Vela.
A source familiar with the proceedings said if no plea agreement is signed in the case, the duo will likely not go to trial until 12-14 months from now.
Two other former members of Barrientes Vela who have been named as suspects have not been indicted so far.
Barrientes Vela, who spoke at length about her criminal charges at the courthouse after being booked last week, has taken a more cautious approach to speaking publicly about her criminal case since then.
During a Tuesday night appearance on ‘The Brockcast,' a weekly online live podcast hosted by former San Antonio City Council member and candidate for mayor Greg Brockhouse, Barrientes Vela avoided many questions because they pertained to her criminal case.
District Clerk records show that Barrientes Vela on Thursday added several attorneys to her defense team from former district attorney Nico LaHood’s law firm, including Jay Norton, Patrick Ballantyne and Jason Goss.
Can she even run for sheriff?
Since Barrientes Vela’s arrest, many people have speculated about whether she is even eligible to continue running for sheriff.
The answer is “yes.”
The Texas Election Code, specifically Chapter 141, states that a candidate would have to be convicted of a felony to be ineligible to run. In fact, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has remained in office despite being indicted on multiple felonies for several years. He continues to fight the charges in Collin County.
Since Barrientes Vela, in all likelihood, would not go to trial before the November election, she remains eligible to stay in the race because she is simply charged with multiple felonies at this point. However, state law would most likely force her out of office if convicted of a felony.
What about Castillo and Miner?
Last week’s indictments came and went without either former Precinct 2 Chief Deputy Anthony Castillo or Lieutenant Jeremy Miner being criminally charged.
When asked by the KSAT 12 Defenders if Castillo and Miner remain under criminal investigation, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said via email that he could not comment on whether a person may be the subject of a criminal investigation.
Both Castillo and Miner were listed as “suspected parties” in the Rangers search warrant used as the basis for 10-hour raid inside the Precinct 2 offices in September.
Castillo is not only named in the search warrant as being present at Rodriguez Park last Easter when Barrientes Vela was accused of demanding money from a park-goer in exchange for providing security, he is also accused of making some of the demands himself.
Barrientes Vela faces two felony charges of tampering with a record after being accused of manufacturing receipt logs related to Rodriguez Park, but so far is not charged for the incident with the park-goer.