Disputed park records take center stage in Barrientes Vela public corruption trial

Ex-constable accused of tampering with security records at Rodriguez Park

SAN ANTONIO – A Texas Ranger testified Tuesday that park security records handed over by Michelle Barrientes Vela in the summer of 2019 did not match records he had already obtained from a county whistleblower.

The testimony of Ranger Bradley Freeman during day six of the ex-constable’s public corruption trial provided the crux of the state’s case against Barrientes Vela, whose scandal-plagued 33 months in office included allegations of theft, official oppression and creating a hostile work environment.

Barrientes Vela, however, is only currently on trial on two felony charges of tampering with a government record.

Her defense attorneys throughout the trial have repeatedly objected to any witnesses testifying about or even alluding to other “bad acts” by their client.

Barrientes Vela faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The prosecution on Tuesday was also able to get admitted into evidence a television interview of Barrientes Vela recorded by WOAI TV in June 2019.

A portion of the interview was played for the jury around 3:20 p.m.

In it, Barrientes Vela told the reporter she canceled an event for her office that day and that she personally paid for the security there.

She said during the interview that a county parks official had told her Precinct 2 needed to provide security there on Easter.

“I paid for the law enforcement security for the constituents on Easter,” Barrientes Vela said during the interview.

Prosecutors previously argued outside the presence of the jury Tuesday morning that Barrientes Vela gave contradictory statements about the Easter 2019 Rodriguez Park incident during the taped interview.

WATCH: Highlights from Day 6 of the Michelle Barrientes Vela trial

Freeman testified that records produced by Barrientes Vela after multiple grand jury subpoenas were issued did not match what had been turned over to him by a county whistleblower: former Precinct 2 clerk Susan Tristan.

Among the documents missing from the records handed over by Barrientes Vela were cash logs from the West Side park.

“She told me that ‘mostly my chief deputy and myself work these things, you’re not going to get much,’” testified Freeman, referring back to a conversation he had with Barrientes Vela after he had asked for records from the park.

The cash logs were instead seized during a September 2019 raid of Barrientes Vela’s county offices.

Pictures shown to the jury included some Rodriguez Park records that were seized from Barrientes Vela’s vehicle.

Barrientes Vela and her then-captain Marc Garcia were indicted months later by a Bexar County grand jury on a flurry of public corruption charges.

People seated in the gallery behind the defense snickered as Freeman testified Thursday afternoon, causing prosecutor Dawn McCraw to request that the judge ask them to be quiet.

Judge Velia Meza said her courtroom deputy would handle the issue.

A deputy warned the gallery to keep their comments to themselves during a courtroom break moments later.

The trial came to an abrupt halt during Freeman’s testimony, after he said on the witness stand that he believed Barrientes Vela had tampered with records and committed official oppression.

After the jury was dismissed for a break, defense attorney Nico LaHood asked for a mistrial and in heated remarks said Freeman’s comment was a “deliberate” attempt to influence the jury on allegations against Barrientes Vela that are not part of this trial.

“She’s asking him a question about what offenses and he bites for it and they knew it. They knew they were going to do this. There’s no other explanation. These are not stupid people. They knew exactly what was going on,” said LaHood, pointing at McCraw and Freeman.

Meza spent a lengthy amount of time away from the bench before denying the motion.

Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman reacts Tuesday after comments he made caused the jury to be excused from the courtroom. (Copyright 2022 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

She did order Freeman to attend a “show cause” hearing at a later date to determine whether he should be held in contempt of court.

During a combative cross-examination of Freeman, LaHood got the investigator to concede that his original subpoena for Rodriguez Park records did not ask for cash logs specifically.

The judge previously stated that she wanted the guilt-innocence portion of the trial completed by Sept. 1.

Barrientes Vela, if convicted, will be sentenced by Meza.

The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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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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