18 months after Barrientes Vela’s removal, new constable still helping traumatized deputies

‘Their lives had been turned upside down,’ said Pct. 2 Constable Leticia Vazquez

Constable Leticia Vazquez said she had to literally and figuratively clean up Precinct 2. (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

Editor’s note: This story is part of an investigative series about the criminal case against ex-Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela. The series culminates with “Downfall,” an hourlong special report that airs on KSAT 12 on March 25 at 9 p.m.

After the high-profile fall of a public official, public attention often wanes from the office that he or she left behind.

In the case of Bexar County Constable’s Office Precinct 2, what started as a 15-month assignment for Leticia Vazquez to complete the term of ousted Michelle Barrientes Vela has instead evolved into a full term in office.

Vazquez, a veteran Bexar County Sheriff’s deputy who beat out close to 30 applicants to replace Barrientes Vela by appointment after her removal in October 2019, said she walked into a work environment full of chaos and needed far longer than 15 months to correct the problems she inherited.

“My job was just to come in here and try and get things more organized and do what the constable’s office is supposed to be doing, which is civil processing,” said Vazquez during a recent interview with the KSAT 12 Defenders at her office.

She took over an office that had been stripped of its state training license and had a fleet of vehicles that were not properly maintained.

Even the desks assigned to deputies were inadequate, according to Vazquez, who said she replaced the decorative-style tables used by Barrientes Vela with actual desks that could hold law enforcement paperwork.

Organizing a property room that was in disarray has also been one of Vazquez’s priorities the past 18 months. That project continues.

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Vazquez, who placed first out of 11 Democratic candidates in a crowded March 2020 primary, later beat out Ino Badillo, another former BCSO deputy, in a COVID-delayed runoff election last July.

Vazquez easily got past Republican Charlie Pena Jr. in the November general election, after securing nearly two-thirds of the vote in Precinct 2.

As Vazquez settles in for a full term in office that runs through the end of 2024, helping traumatized deputies remains one of her focuses.

Vazquez agreed with an assessment from the Defenders that deputies who served under Barrientes Vela appeared to be shell shocked and showed signs of having Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Vazquez told one story of a deputy who used to get physically sick when he would arrive to work in the morning and see Barrientes Vela’s vehicle parked out front.

I don’t know what gave them the strength. There’s three that put up with it and dealt with it, but they went through it,” said Vazquez, referring specifically to deputy constables Leonicio Moreno and Chris De La Cerda and a current lieutenant in her agency who all worked under Barrientes Vela.

Vazquez said one of her first acts after replacing Barrientes Vela was to reinstate Moreno and De La Cerda, both of whom have been returned to supervisory positions under Vazquez.

Moreno and De La Cerda declined requests to be interviewed for the investigative special since both are still involved in pending civil lawsuits against Barrientes Vela.

They were anxious to get back to work. They wanted to work. Their lives had been turned upside down. So I had to do the right thing and bring them back. And I did, and actually, they’ve worked out fine. They know this. They’re part of the three that know this office and have kept this office running,” said Vazquez.

As for some of the scandals that defined her predecessor’s time in office, Vazquez said her simple approach to law enforcement will prevent those type of incidents from happening again.

“I’m not going to make myself, my agency or my family look bad. You have to be on your best behavior, because we represent somebody,” said Vazquez.

When asked about incidents in which Barrientes Vela used Precinct 2 deputies to search for a vehicle stolen from her husband’s used car lot and had deputies question a manager who accused Barrientes Vela’s adult son of shoplifting from a discount store, Vazquez said: “The law doesn’t change. We took an oath to follow that law. And we know what we’re supposed to be doing, what we’re not. So, as far as sending my officers to go take care of something personal, that would never happen.”

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About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.