SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This story is part of an investigative series about the criminal case against ex-Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela. The series culminated with “Downfall,” an hourlong special report that aired on KSAT 12 on March 25. Watch the full special above.
At first glance, the story of Michelle Barrientes Vela had all the trappings of a political fairy tale. Once an unpaid, reserve deputy at Bexar County Constable’s Office Precinct 2, Barrientes Vela became the elected Constable after winning the 2016 election. She finished second among five Democratic candidates in the March primary that year, then won the run-off held two and a half months later. That November she captured more than 66% of the vote on her way to joining a shortlist of women to serve as constable in Bexar County.
That’s the way it began, but not how it ended. Barrientes Vela’s tale is an age-old story of the rise and then the fall of an elected official whose infamy arrived long before she was removed from office.
Only one journalist was there from the beginning: KSAT 12 Investigative Reporter Dillon Collier. See what he uncovered on the KSAT 12 Defenders investigative special, “Downfall,” in the video player above.
Collier found what began as a trickle of issues at Precinct 2 eventually became a three-year flood of stories. Personnel problems morphed into claims of false arrests, perjury, tampering with evidence, and other alleged crimes for which Barrientes Vela now awaits trial.
In the end, largely because of Collier’s tenacity and reporting, Barrientes Vela and a member of her command staff found themselves under criminal indictment and out of their jobs.
In our one-hour program, you’ll hear how the former constable maintains her innocence and how she believes the investigation of her office and her subsequent arrest are really the result of her attempts to “clean up” corruption among other Bexar County elected officials.
But you’ll also learn about evidence that shows Barrientes Vela misused taxpayer funds and county money, used her deputies to help solve problems for members of her family, and claims that she pressured members of the public by using her position, sometimes for cash payments.
Reporter Dillon Collier also explores an ongoing war that was happening inside Precinct 2, what some called a multi-year harassment campaign waged by Barrientes Vela against two deputies.
Collier also talks with the current Precinct 2 Constable Leticia Vazquez, who says the years of chaos there had a considerable impact on the staff.
“Downfall” includes an in-depth look at Barrientes Vela’s upcoming felony trial, through interviews with legal and public policy experts as well as her criminal defense team and the former constable herself.
READ MORE ON THE DOWNFALL PAGE: