Acts of intimidation, blackballing of deputies described during Barrientes Vela sentencing

Ex-constable faces up to 10 years in prison at the conclusion of sentencing

SAN ANTONIO – A corporal with the Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office testified Tuesday that she and other deputies witnessed then-constable Michelle Barrientes Vela interrogate a discount store manager after the manager accused the elected official’s son of shoplifting.

The testimony came during day two of the former constable’s sentencing. A Bexar County jury earlier this month convicted the disgraced former public official of two counts of tampering with records.

Barrientes Vela has elected to be punished by Judge Velia Meza.

The February 2019 incident at a Family Dollar store in the 2100 block of South Zarzamora Street occurred hours after one of Barrientes Vela’s adult sons was thrown out of the store.

The store manager forced Barrientes Vela’s son to leave the store after recognizing him as previously stealing shoes, Cpl. Vanessa Pena testified Tuesday.

A previous KSAT Investigates report also confirmed the son was accused of taking deodorant from the store.

WATCH: Highlights from Day 2 of sentencing phase of Michelle Barrientes Vela trial

Here's a video synopsis of what went down in Day 2 of the sentencing phase of the Michelle Barrientes Vela public corruption trial.

Pena told the court that she and other members of Precinct 2′s traffic division were ordered by Barrientes Vela over the radio to respond to the store’s location.

Pena described Barrientes Vela as distraught during the incident.

“When I arrived I remembered her being really upset, and that was probably one of the first times that I had seen her upset,” said Pena, who testified that at least four deputies arrived on scene in uniform.

Pena recalled the manager of the Family Dollar stating that she was scared.

Pena concluded her testimony by stating that she was summoned by Barrientes Vela to respond to a non-Precinct 2 related incident on one other occasion.

Pena was dismissed from the witness stand without providing details of the second incident.

A KSAT Investigates report previously revealed that Barrientes Vela used Pct. 2 deputies in November 2018 to search for a vehicle stolen from her husband’s used car lot.

Multiple current and former Precinct 2 deputies testified Tuesday that Barrientes Vela ordered them to shred documents at the tail end of her tumultuous 33-month tenure.

Officer Gabriel Murad, a former Pct. 2 reserve deputy who now works for the Harlandale Independent School District Police Department, told the court that he witnessed non-employees of the agency, including Barrientes Vela’s husband Carlos, and her longtime supporter Mary Jane Martinez, removing records from the office in boxes and black plastic bags.

Murad became heated when recalling a previous incident in which the then-constable warned him to stay away from two deputies she had reluctantly returned to duty: Leonicio Moreno and Christopher De La Cerda.

Murad also testified that he repeatedly worked security at a church event but was never compensated.

Prosecutors allege that Barrientes Vela operated an unlicensed security company. She has never been criminally charged in connection to those allegations, however.

A fourth deputy, Joshua Lugo, testified that Barrientes Vela temporarily revoked his out-of-county work permits after he spoke to Moreno and De La Cerda at a funeral.

Jason Castanon, a former Pct. 2 deputy who now works for the Comal County Sheriff’s Office, testified about his role in the April 2019 arrest of Moreno.

Castanon told the court five teams of deputies were sent to search for Moreno and were warned that Moreno knew martial arts. The charge Moreno faced, perjury, is a non-violent offense and Castanon said he was not concerned for his well being.

Moreno was eventually taken into custody at a gym. Castanon and a second deputy delayed booking Moreno on the felony charge until the media could assemble.

Body-worn camera footage played without audio Tuesday showed Moreno being arrested and then driven around neighborhoods near the Bexar County Jail.

Prosecutors dismissed the criminal case against Moreno within hours, and the circumstances of his arrest are the basis of several of the pending public corruption charges against Barrientes Vela and her former captain, Marc D. Garcia.

Garcia is scheduled to go to trial later this year.

This portion of Barrientes Vela’s sentencing concluded at the end of the day Tuesday. The sentencing phase of the trial will continue October 3, due to court scheduling conflicts.

Barrientes Vela faces between two years probation and 10 years in prison.

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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.