Jury deliberating fate of Barrientes Vela in felony tampering case

Ex-Precinct 2 constable faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted

Michelle Barrientes Vela awaits for court proceedings to begin in her public corruption trial. (Copyright 2022 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – A Bexar County jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon in the felony tampering with records case against indicted ex-constable Michelle Barrientes Vela.

Barrientes Vela, whose 33-month tenure in charge of Precinct 2 was marred by controversies and allegations of wrongdoing, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The jury was handed the case around 1 p.m.

Barrientes Vela faces two felony counts of tampering with records in a case that took prosecutors just shy of seven full days to present.

Investigators specifically accuse her of altering security payment records from a West Side park and then providing a fake set of documents to law enforcement, all after being issued grand jury subpoenas.

Additional allegations against Barrientes Vela, including multiple counts of official oppression, were not included in this trial and were a constant source of contention throughout the trial.

Judge Velia Meza nearly declared a mistrial Tuesday afternoon, after Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman testified that he believed Barrientes Vela had committed official oppression in addition to record tampering.

Freeman, whose testimony covered parts of four days of the trial, will have to return to court at a later date for contempt of court hearings.

On Wednesday, Freeman was grilled for hours on the witness stand by defense attorney Nico LaHood, who attempted to poke holes in Freeman’s 2019 investigation into Barrientes Vela’s handling of security records from Rodriguez Park.

LaHood pointed out Wednesday that Freeman never specifically asked for “cash logs” in repeated grand jury subpoenas.

During closing arguments Thursday morning, prosecutor Oscar Salinas asked the jury to ignore the “noise” surrounding the high-profile case.

Salinas called the defense arguments an “insult to the intelligence” of the jury.

“The defendant concealed records after being given a grand jury summons,” said Salinas, who added that Barrientes Vela then made fake documents and provided them to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.

Defense attorney Jason Goss told the jury a guilty verdict would be the jury telling the public that its okay to lodge this type of investigation against anyone in the community.

“They set a trap and they didn’t get anything,” said Goss, repeating comments he made during opening arguments last week.

LaHood during closing arguments described the state’s presentation as a “bumpy waltz,” as he harped on Freeman’s investigation and reminded the jury that the secret FBI recording device worn by former Precinct 2 clerk Susan Tristan did not result in any incriminating evidence being gathered against Barrientes Vela.

“Be careful of the world you help create because you may have to live in it someday,” LaHood told the jury.

During her portion of closing arguments, prosecutor Dawn McCraw said Barrientes Vela’s attorneys were so critical of her and Freeman because they didn’t want the jury to look at the person on trial.

“Disparaging Ranger Freeman and me is incredibly insulting,” said McCraw, who touched on her 32 years as a prosecutor.

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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.