SAN ANTONIO – A Bexar County visiting judge on Monday affirmed a previous judge’s decision to hold a Texas Ranger in contempt of court for flubbing his testimony during Michelle Barrientes Vela’s public corruption trial last year.
Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman was ordered to pay a $500 fine as part of the public sanction affirmed by Judge Kevin O’Connell, who reviewed nearly a thousand pages of trial material before coming to his conclusion.
O’Connell affirmed Judge Velia Meza’s original ruling made late last year that Freeman willfully and flagrantly disregarded a court order.
Freeman testified on Aug. 30 that he believed Barrientes Vela had tampered with records and committed official oppression.
The mention of official oppression caused Meza at the time to excuse the jury and weigh whether to declare a mistrial.
She eventually denied the defense’s request for a mistrial and Barrientes Vela was subsequently convicted jury days later.
“You’re a Ranger for God’s sake,” Judge O’Connell told Freeman, before also heaping criticism on the lead prosecutor on the case, Dawn McCraw.
O’Connell questioned how the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office tried the case, which resulted in Barrientes Vela being convicted on two felony counts of tampering with records.
DA officials last year elected to move forward with the tampering charges against the former Precinct 2 constable first, meaning separate accusations that she also committed official oppression while in office could not be brought up during her trial.
O’Connell pointed out Monday that Freeman successfully “danced around” Meza’s order prohibiting witnesses from mentioning those separate charges eight times, before slipping up while being questioned by McCraw near the end of the trial.
O’Connell alluded that had he been the judge assigned to hear the original case, he would have likely initiated contempt of court proceedings against McCraw as well.
“If I was the trial judge, there might be somebody standing with you from the DA’s office,” O’Connell said.
“That was either the most inartful question ever asked to a trial witness or it was intentional. It’s a shame that they did this to you,” O’Connell told Freeman. “You gave her exactly what you thought she wanted to hear.”
DA officials did not respond to request for comment on the hearing Monday.
McCraw retired from the DA’s office at the end of last year.
What it means for Barrientes Vela
Barrientes Vela, who was indicted by a grand jury months after leaving office during her first term, was sentenced to five years probation and 90 days in jail in early January, after a jury determined she knowingly altered security payment logs for Rodriguez Park.
While she remains on probation until early 2028, Barrientes Vela has so far avoided serving her jail sentence because she indicated she will appeal the jury’s verdict.
Her formal appeal is expected to be filed with the Fourth Court of Appeals early next year, a source familiar with her legal defense told KSAT.
Robert Switzer, an attorney pro tem appointed by the state to defend Meza’s contempt ruling, said during the hearing that Freeman committed a “blatant” mistake on the witness stand.
“There is no question this was a gift-wrapped point of error to the defense. Addressing an offense that the defendant is not on trial for, that’s hard to unring that bell,” Switzer told KSAT after the hearing.
Freeman’s violation of the court’s order will more than likely play a key role in Barrientes Vela’s appeal.
It was repeatedly mentioned during her request for a new trial this winter.
Meza denied the motion for a new trial in early March.
O’Connell told Freeman Monday he could pay the fine in the form of a donation and that he did not believe the investigator should have to take a retraining course on how to testify.
“You’re a freaking Texas Ranger. You set the bar. You set the standard,” O’Connell said.