SAN ANTONIO – A deputy with the Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office testified Monday that he worked security at Rodriguez Park between eight and ten times while serving in a reserve capacity, and was not compensated.
The revelation came during day five of indicted ex-constable Michelle Barrientes Vela’s public corruption trial.
The testimony of Deputy Kelvin O’neil, who worked as a reserve for Precinct 2 in 2018 before being hired full time, was the first time jurors heard allegations of wrongdoing against Barrientes Vela on top of what she’s been criminally indicted for: allegations that she tampered with security payment logs for the West Side park and then handed over false records to law enforcement in the summer of 2019.
Barrientes Vela’s defense attorneys attempted to downplay O’neil’s testimony Monday, pointing out that he was already a full-time deputy for Precinct 2 by November 2018 and only served in a reserve capacity for several months.
Defense attorney Jason Goss also got O’neil to concede on the stand that he was never formally interviewed by the case’s lead investigator, Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman.
O’neil instead provided information to prosecutor Dawn McCraw, who worked with Freeman as an investigator on this case, his testimony revealed.
Outside the presence of the jury, prosecutors told the court that the District Attorney’s Office could have charged Barrientes Vela with a list of other misdemeanors, but opted to go with the most serious charges.
Aside from two felony counts of tampering with evidence, Barrientes Vela faces three counts of official oppression.
Prosecutors last year dismissed the most serious criminal charge against Barrientes Vela: aggravated perjury.
“We didn’t want to load her up with misdemeanors,” prosecutor Dawn McCraw said.
The Texas Occupations Code, specifically the Private Security Act, severely limits the kind of work reserve deputies can perform.
Prosecutors asserted that Barrientes Vela’s use of reserve deputies to provide security at the park was a violation of state law, a Class A misdemeanor, and hinted that gathering money for security and then not paying it out to deputies was motive for falsifying security records from the park.
Again, however, these discussions took place without the jury present.
A trial mired by interruptions late last week moved at a faster pace Monday.
The prosecution got through a flurry of witnesses, including an assistant district attorney who spoke about how a grand jury summons works and the county’s human resources director, who testified that reserve deputies are not county employees.
The day began with additional testimony from former Precinct 2 clerk Susan Tristan, who was appearing on the witness stand for the third straight day of trial.
She testified that she quit her position with Precinct 2 a day after the offices were raided and then moved to Seattle, where she does similar work for the county there.
Ranger Freeman on Monday afternoon took the stand for the second time.
He testified about how the criminal case came together, but like other witnesses, was required to keep his testimony to the tampering charges and could not touch on civil or additional criminal allegations against the former constable.
Freeman was able to testify in front of the jury that Rodriguez Park security records provided by Barrientes Vela had additional entries than those handed over by Tristan.
Freeman confirmed Tristan was a “confidential informant.”
He detailed Tristan carrying an undercover FBI recording device during several days of work and noted that the informant was required to keep it on her at all times during the day.
Former Precinct 2 Captain Marc Garcia, who was formally charged alongside Barrientes Vela in January 2020, made a brief court appearance Monday.
His trial for aggravated perjury is tentatively scheduled to begin in late November.
The jury in the Barrientes Vela case was released for the day around 4:30 p.m. Monday.
The trial is scheduled to resume around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.