SAN ANTONIO – Sentencing began Monday for Michelle Barrientes Vela, the former Bexar County Precinct 2 constable convicted earlier this month on two counts of felony tampering with records.
Jeremy Miner, who served as a lieutenant under Barrientes Vela and was part of her administration at the time she left office, heaped criticism on his ex-boss as he testified for hours.
“I believe she was a cancer to her own office,” said Miner, when asked by defense attorney Jason Goss if it was accurate to describe a fellow deputy, Leonicio Moreno, as a cancer after Moreno was reinstated from being terminated in 2018.
Miner, who said he now works as a deputy in McMullen County, mumbled throughout his testimony and spoke in a low voice, making it difficult to follow what he was saying.
Unlike Barrientes Vela’s nearly two-week trial, which resulted on Sept. 1 with guilty verdicts on both tampering charges being read in a jam-packed courtroom, Monday’s testimony took place without a jury present and with just a smattering of supporters seated behind the disgraced former elected official.
Barrientes Vela has elected to be punished by Judge Velia Meza, who said testimony will be given Monday and Tuesday and will then resume in early October if needed.
While Barrientes Vela’s tampering trial focused on whether she knowingly altered security payment logs for Rodriguez Park, her sentencing will focus on the treatment of deputies who worked for her as well as allegations that she provided false statements on an arrest warrant for Moreno.
Prosecutors last year dismissed an aggravated perjury charge filed against Barrientes Vela related to Moreno’s arrest.
The state still plans to introduce evidence pertaining to it, prosecutor Dawn McCraw said Monday during brief opening remarks.
Barrientes Vela still faces three counts of official oppression related to her treatment of Moreno and a second Precinct 2 deputy, Christopher De La Cerda.
Prosecutors began “proving up” these allegations on Monday.
Miner described the response of Precinct 2 deputies to Moreno’s home while he was off duty in early 2019 as “excessive,” and stated that Barrientes Vela had ordered at least a half-dozen deputies from her agency to retrieve Moreno’s service weapon.
The incident, described at the time as a “welfare check,” has been described by prosecutors and Moreno himself as a form of harassment and intimidation since it took place weeks after Moreno filed to run against Barrientes Vela in the 2020 election.
Prosecutors have not indicated whether Moreno or De La Cerda will be called to testify during sentencing.
In April 2019, Moreno was arrested on a warrant issued by Barrientes Vela’s office.
Miner confirmed Monday that Precinct 2 deputies who had taken Moreno into custody on the perjury warrant were instructed to delay booking him until the media could arrive.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Jason Goss described Moreno as disruptive.
Miner agreed and stated that Moreno and Barrientes Vela engaged in a “tit-for-tat” with one another.
Miner was investigated by the Texas Rangers and was featured prominently in a search warrant used by investigators to raid Barrientes Vela’s offices in September 2019.
Miner was never criminally charged.
Although Miner was just one of seven witnesses sworn in Monday to testify, his time on the witness stand took up the morning and much of the afternoon and court adjourned for the day without any other witnesses being called.
Meza said she hoped to get through as many as 10 witnesses Tuesday.
Barrientes Vela faces a wide range of possible punishments: between two years probation and 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors have said they will dismiss the three official oppression charges against Barrientes Vela at the conclusion of sentencing, which resumes at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday.