Video challenges constable's claim that deputy came at her during meeting

Former deputy constable denied disability benefits after injuring back

By Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter

Video provided to the KSAT 12 Defenders challenges a Bexar County constable's testimony last year that a deputy constable came at her while receiving a verbal reprimand.

The 12-minute clip was recorded by former Precinct 2 Deputy Constable Jeff Enochs on a cell phone placed in the front breast pocket of his uniform on Feb. 8, 2017, while Enochs received a verbal reprimand from Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela and two other Precinct 2 supervisors.

The constable, who had been on the job five weeks when the recording was made, likely did not know she was being recorded.

The deputy was being disciplined for allowing a Leon Valley Police Department officer that day to handle a minor traffic accident inside Leon Valley city limits, records show.

"Once I get on, ask for a traffic unit, my rules apply and nobody else's rules apply. That's what we're having a problem with," Barrientes Vela said on the recording.

A day after the verbal reprimand, Enochs said he suffered a significant injury to his lower back while lifting a heavy box of ammunition, after being ordered to retrieve a piece of equipment at home.

Enochs later filed paperwork to try to get disability benefits for the injury.

Bexar County and Enochs disagree on not only the specifics of Enochs' injury but also whether it happened while he was on duty.

Records provided to KSAT 12 from a Department of Insurance workers' compensation contested case hearing held in Houston last summer state that Barrientes Vela appeared in person and testified that Enochs "stood up in a threatening and menacing stance with his fists clenched and came towards her," during the February 8, 2017, verbal reprimand.

While the video does not show Enochs' fists or how he was standing, he does not appear to move toward the constable, who was offscreen at his side.

Barrientes Vela testified that Enochs "knew his days were numbered" and that more corrective action would follow after he "manned up" to the constable, records from the contested case hearing show.

Barrientes Vela's testimony was repeatedly cited by the administrative hearing officer in her decision to side with Bexar County and deny Enochs disability payments, according to case hearing records.

"To come to my contested case hearing, manufacture a lie like that, to say that I came at her like I was going to hit her, at that point, her integrity as far as I'm concerned is trashed," said Enochs.

The hearing was held in Houston because Enochs had moved there after his termination and was being treated at the Injury Center of Houston, records show.

Case records indicate that a sergeant and lieutenant present during the verbal reprimand prepared reports for the hearing as well.

The contents of those reports, and whether they corroborate Barrientes Vela's testimony, were not provided to the Defenders.

An attorney representing Bexar County wrote in closing arguments submitted before the hearing that the county also had surveillance pictures of Enochs that showed him "walking without any problems" after the back injury.

Enochs disagreed with that characterization and said despite receiving an honorable discharge from Precinct 2 after separating from the agency, which would have allowed him to get another job in law enforcement, the injury to his lower back forced him to find work in a different profession.

"If I were to sustain a hit, I would more than likely become paralyzed," said Enochs, who added that he needs surgery to correct issues with his lumbar, including bilateral nerve impingement, pain and twitching in his leg and numbing in his hands and heel.

"It had gotten to the point where I was vomiting blood up because I was eating 10-15-20 pills a day, they're just addictive," said Enochs, who said he spent the better part of the last year finding alternative methods to deal with pain from the injury.

Also in dispute is whether Enochs knew he was being terminated prior to the injury.

Case records indicate that Enochs was provided a letter on Feb. 9, 2017, informing him that he was being terminated.

The records do not indicate whether he was provided the letter before or after the injury occurred.

Enochs said that he did not learn of his termination until receiving a letter in the mail on Feb. 16, 2017, a full week after injuring his back, according to case records.

KSAT 12 discussed internally whether to post the entire 12-minute recording, but opted not to since it contains comments from Precinct 2 personnel about how the agency handles certain law enforcement activities.

The legal dispute is one of at least three pitting Barrientes Vela against current and former members of her agency.

Last month, two current Precinct 2 deputy constables, Jesse Garcia and Raymond Ford, sued the constable for alleged defamation.

In strikingly similar lawsuits filed in state district court last month, an attorney for Garcia and Ford said that both deputy constables were terminated by Barrientes Vela in February 2017.

Both deputy constables appealed their terminations to the Bexar County Civil Service Commission.

Weeks later, after the constable consulted with the district attorney's office, both deputies were given notices of rescinded terminations and returned to the force, according to the suits.

Both deputies continue to work for Precinct 2, a county spokeswoman confirmed.

Each deputy is seeking $200,000 to $1 million in damages and is asking that Barrientes Vela be ordered to "correct, clarify or retract" statements she made in their termination letters, in comments to fellow members of the agency and in a news story aired by another San Antonio television station last year, according to the suits.

According to both lawsuits, the deputies' termination letters contained the following statement from Barrientes Vela:

“Effective immediately as of February 10, 2017, you are terminated base (sic) on the
following concerns: No (sic) confidence, not trustworthy, dishonesty and conduct which
are (sic) detrimental to or have (sic) adverse effect for (sic) the Department (sic) and
place (sic) this department and myself (sic) in a liability situation. All county issued
items/property must be turned in immediately; (sic) including your credentials and all
work permits are now void.”

County records show that Ford has worked for the agency for nearly 15 years, while Garcia has worked there more than 13 years.

**If you're having trouble viewing the lawsuit click here.

Raymond Ford vs Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela - 2018CI02586

An attorney representing both deputies did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Barrientes Vela, who is represented by the Bexar County District Attorney's Office in both cases, filed a response March 12 claiming sovereign immunity and that the suits were filed after the statute of limitations expired.

**If you're having trouble viewing the lawsuit click here.

Jesse Garcia vs Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela - 2018CI02593

She did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this story or to an open records request about whether her agency has a policy or procedure prohibiting employees from recording videos inside Precinct 2 buildings.

The Defenders filed a formal complaint with the state attorney general's office earlier this month, detailing the constable's failure to respond to the request for public information.

The constable has refused to sit down for an interview with the Defenders for stories about personnel issues within her agency since taking office at the start of 2017 and instead has answered questions asked by a KSAT 12 photographer covering a different story at her offices.

The constable has also complained to KSAT 12 management about the coverage after a story last month detailed a Precinct 2 deputy being ordered to respond to a crash scene in his personal vehicle. The constable responded to it by repeatedly posting comments on the KSAT 12 Facebook page.

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