SAN ANTONIO – Former Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation, 90 days in jail and 600 hours of community service.
Barrientes Vela had faced between two years probation and 10 years in prison after a jury on Sept. 1 found her guilty on two felony counts of tampering with records.
Barrientes Vela presented Rodriguez Park security payment logs that she knew to be false, after coming under criminal investigation.
Prosecutors hours earlier asked that she be sentenced to six years in prison for her crimes.
Barrientes Vela was allowed to leave court without being taken back into custody and does not have to serve her 90-day sentence while she appeals her convictions.
The reading of the sentence was not without controversy, as two of her sons interrupted the proceedings.
One son yelled “F--- the DA, f--- the DA” while walking toward the exit while a second son removed his jacket and attempted to charge toward the front of the courtroom.
He was subdued by security and quickly removed from the courtroom.
Both men, along with about half of Barrientes Vela’s supporters, were then locked out of the courtroom as Judge Velia Meza read the stipulations of the sentence a second time.
The ex-constable, whose scandal-ridden 33 months in office culminated with a 2019 raid of her Northwest Side offices by the Texas Rangers and FBI and then a failed run for Bexar County sheriff the following year, also faced multiple counts of official oppression that were taken into consideration during the sentencing phase of her trial.
Wednesday, which was Day Nine of the sentencing phase of Barrientes Vela’s trial, included brief testimony from Precinct 2 Judge Roberto Vazquez.
Vazquez and defense attorney Jason Goss went back and forth on who was responsible for dismantling the security setup at the county’s Precinct 2 complex, which houses the constable’s offices and justice of the peace courtrooms.
The dismantling included the temporary removal of a metal detector.
“I don’t believe my safety was a priority in that building,” Vazquez said during an argumentative back and forth with Goss that included the attorney accusing the judge of being non-responsive.
Vazquez provided some of the most biting criticism of Barrientes Vela during an earlier portion of her sentencing and Wednesday testified that conversations with the then-elected official were all over the place and at times non-sensical.
The defense rested before 9:30 a.m.
No jury was present for the start-and-stop sentencing phase of the trial, since Barrientes Vela chose to be sentenced by Judge Meza, who is overseeing the case.
Attorneys instead addressed Meza during closing arguments.
Goss told the court that the jury’s verdict was tainted because they were constantly being told that there were allegations “out there” against Barrientes Vela that were not allowed to be discussed during the trial.
Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman, the state’s lead investigator in the case, was held in contempt of court in late November after the judge ruled that he violated a court order not to testify about other allegations against the ex-constable.
Freeman claimed on the witness stand during the trial on Aug. 30 that he believed Barrientes Vela had committed official oppression, that she essentially used her position of authority to deny another person’s rights.
The testimony violated the judge’s order not to discuss allegations against Barrientes Vela that were outside the tampering with records indictment.
“From the very beginning they had this idea that everything Michelle did was wrong,” Goss said. “The sentence has to match what she’s convicted of.”
Former Pct. 2 Capt. Marc D. Garcia, who was indicted alongside Barrientes Vela in early 2020, was granted immunity as part of a deal with prosecutors in late October that called for him to testify against his former boss.
His testimony was later excluded by the judge due to conflicts of interest raised by the defense.
Whether Barrientes Vela encouraged Garcia to get an arrest warrant against another Pct. 2 deputy, Leonicio Moreno, in April 2019, was a key point of contention throughout the sentencing portion of her trial.
Moreno, whose felony perjury charge was dismissed hours after he was taken into custody, had filed to run for constable against Barrientes Vela shortly before her agency began investigating him for possibly filing a false Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint.
Goss, who called the investigation and subsequent arrest of Moreno a “farce,” said he, the judge and prosecutors would have known it was a faulty investigation but that Barrientes Vela did not know any better.
“Law enforcement, constable, that was not the position for her,” said Goss, who at one point during his closing argument added that his client was not a legal scholar.
A former Pct. 2 training instructor testified Tuesday that Garcia acted alone in getting a judge to sign the warrant to arrest Moreno.
During the state’s closing argument, prosecutor Oscar Salinas said the terms “public corruption” and “Michelle Barrientes Vela” are now synonymous with one another.
He played a media interview recorded during the September 2019 raid of her offices in which the then-constable pushed for the arrest of Moreno.
The interview took place months after Moreno’s criminal charge was dismissed and contradicted statements from the defense that Garcia acted alone in pursuing the case.
Salinas asked Meza to sentence Barrientes Vela to six years in prison.
Barrientes Vela’s defense team filed a notice of appeal, in an attempt to get the felony convictions overturned by a higher court.