Barrientes Vela’s former clerk says constable was ‘rattled’ by 2019 visit from Texas Ranger

Second county employee said he was ordered to destroy records shortly before Barrientes Vela left office

SAN ANTONIO – A former Precinct 2 clerk who provided critical information to law enforcement about the inner workings of Michelle Barrientes Vela’s administration testified Thursday that the then-constable was left “rattled” after learning she was under criminal investigation in the summer of 2019.

“She was really upset and then all of her administration went into the conference room,” said Susan Tristan, who said Barrientes Vela later ordered her to make multiple copies of records for pavilion rentals at Rodriguez Park.

Barrientes Vela, whose scandal-plagued 33 months as Bexar County Precinct 2 constable ended in October 2019, is charged with two felony counts of tampering with evidence.

Thursday marked day three of testimony in a trial that is expected to last well into next week.

Prosecutors specifically allege that Barrientes Vela tampered with security payment logs for Rodriguez Park and then turned over a false set of records to law enforcement who were investigating whether she had shaken down a man for cash after he had rented the pavilion on Easter 2019.

She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, and faces multiple counts of official oppression as part of the same indictment.

WATCH: Highlights from Day 3 of the Michelle Barrientes Vela trial

Tristan said shortly after the Easter incident took place that the then-constable created a new version of her office’s agreement to provide security during events at the West Side park.

Tristan described a work environment in which Barrientes Vela frequently yelled at her and blamed her for not knowing how many people were showing up at the rented pavilions.

She testified that after the Easter 2019 incident, Barrientes Vela asked her to fill in new information on Rodriguez Park cash logs.

Tristan described the demands for records as “too much” and the work as “messy,” stating that the process was interfering with her other duties.

Tristan stated that a significant amount of time that summer was spent altering and compiling these records.

Tristan said she resigned shortly after the Texas Rangers and FBI raided the constable’s Northwest Side offices in September 2019.

By then, however, Tristan had already spoken extensively with law enforcement. A prosecutor earlier this week referred to her as a “county whistleblower.”

Defense attorney Jason Goss was able to get Tristan to concede that the records did not contain ink from different colored pens, a reference to prosecutor Dawn McCraw’s opening statement in which she said different pens were used by Barrientes Vela to make it appear like the records were filled out over a period of time.

Tristan, whose nearly daylong testimony stretched into the evening, broke down in tears while recalling a conversation with Barrientes Vela in which the then-constable told her to “watch her back” and to get an attorney.

The comments from Barrientes Vela came a day after a Texas Ranger served Barrientes Vela paperwork.

“I needed to do something in that situation. I’m just a clerk. How do I go over an elected official?” testified Tristan, who said she then took steps to make contact with the investigator, Ranger Bradley Freeman.

Judge Velia Meza denied a motion for mistrial from the defense, after Tristan said that she felt she was working in a hostile working environment.

Tristan and a second Precinct 2 clerk, Michael Villanueva, testified about the ‘make it up as you go along’ nature of Barrientes Vela’s tenure.

Villanueva said he was falsely accused by members of Barrientes Vela’s administration of shredding an Easter rental agreement for a Rodriguez Park pavilion.

Villanueva told the jury one of Barrientes Vela’s last acts before leaving office was to instruct him to destroy a large number of records.

It’s unclear whether any of those records pertain to the criminal case against her.

Villanueva, however, gave the jury the incorrect date, stating that the order was given to him in the last week before current constable Leticia Vazquez was sworn in at midnight on Jan. 1, 2020.

Vazquez was actually sworn in the second week of October 2019, after Barrientes Vela triggered the state’s resign-to-run law.

Villanueva was dismissed from the witness stand without either side correcting him.

Day four of testimony is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

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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.

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.

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