Editor’s note: This story is part of an investigative series about the criminal case against ex-Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela. The series culminates with “Downfall,” an hourlong special report that airs on KSAT 12 on March 25 at 9 p.m.
Michelle Barrientes Vela made several rivals — and a few allies, too — during her tenure as Bexar County Pct. 2 Constable.
Elected in 2016, Barrientes Vela oversaw the office she once volunteered for, vowing to clean up the corruption she said she inherited from her predecessor.
It wouldn’t be long before Barrientes Vela found herself embroiled in her own political scandals.
The controversy would not only consume her tenure but pull in several other people, including former employees, an ally who was charged alongside her and a successor who was left cleaning up the issues that plagued the office.
On March 25 at 9 p.m., the KSAT 12 Defenders investigative special, “Downfall,” will air for the first time.
In the 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.
“Downfall” includes an in-depth look at Barrientes Vela’s upcoming felony trial, through interviews with legal and public policy experts as well as with her criminal defense team and the former constable herself.
Before the special report airs Thursday at 9 p.m., take a look at four people who were pulled into the headlines along with Barrientes Vela.
Former Precinct 2 Deputy Constable Jeff Enochs became the first to publicly question Michelle Barrientes Vela in March 2018.
The day after Barrientes Vela verbally reprimanded him for allowing a Leon Valley Police Department officer to handle a minor traffic incident inside Leon Valley city limits, Enochs said he threw out his back while lifting a heavy box of ammunition.
“To come to my contested case hearing, manufacture a lie like that, to say that I came at her like I was going to hit her, at that point, her integrity, as far as I’m concerned, is trashed,” said Enochs.
Enochs was fired by Barrientes Vela shortly after he injured his back.
After Barrientes Vela left the office in 2019, Enochs told KSAT he was not surprised she was the subject of a criminal investigation. He also said he is still dealing with the injuries to his back, which include four herniated discs.
During Barrientes Vela’s tenure as constable, Leonicio Moreno found himself fired, reinstated and arrested after he filed paperwork to campaign against her.
The deputy constable was terminated in 2018 after Barrientes Vela stated he had falsified his training records along with another constable deputy, Chris de la Cerda. Both were reinstated months later after they appealed the firing. During that hearing, Moreno said the constable had set him up to fail by prohibiting him from speaking to the office’s previous training administrator.
Later that year, in December, Moreno sued Barrientes Vela, accusing her of trying to caress him during a work trip in a hotel hot tub. That lawsuit is still pending, according to court records.
In February 2019, deputy constables arrested Moreno, accusing him of aggravated perjury over alleged lies in an employment complaint he filed against Barrientes Vela. The charge was quickly rejected by the district attorney’s office.
“She confirmed the worst fears a community can have about an elected official,” Moreno said in a statement after the charges were rejected. “She is incompetent, dishonest and vindictive. She has no qualms with abusing her authority and position for personal gain.”
Marc Garcia, who first joined the constable’s office in 2010, had risen to the rank of captain before he was arrested alongside Barrientes Vela on Jan. 23, 2020. The duo was indicted on charges of aggravated perjury, two counts of tampering with evidence and three counts of official oppression.
Garcia became a staunch defender of Barrientes Vela and deputy constables’ conduct in Moreno’s arrest.
Garcia wrote up the criminal complaint that led to Moreno’s arrest. In a subsequent investigation into the constable’s office, Texas Rangers had found that there was a lack of documentation in the complaint against Moreno and no factual basis to back up Garcia’s claims of a crime.
After Barrientes Vela was removed from office, Garcia was fired by Precinct 2 last February for conduct unbecoming an officer and violations of the law, according to his termination paperwork.
Now, Garcia and Barrientes Vela plan to mount an aggressive defense when they stand trial on the criminal charges.
After Barrientes Vela’s tumultuous tenure was capped by her forced resignation after announcing a bid for Bexar County Sherriff, current Pct. 2 Constable Leticia Vazquez has been left to deal with the issues Barrientes Vela left behind.
Vazquez was first appointed to the office by the Bexar County Commissioners Court in October 2019. The 25-year veteran of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office initially pledged she would not run for the position.
Two months later, Vazquez announced her candidacy for the office, saying that she was devoted to fixing the issues that needed to be addressed.
“I don’t want to leave anything undone. Not for me, but for the staff. The people that have been in that office, they have gone through a lot,” Vazquez told the KSAT 12 Defenders at the time of her announcement.
Vazquez won over the voters, who elected her to her first full term in the 2020 general election.
In “Downfall,” Vazquez will talk to KSAT 12 Defenders investigative journalist Dillon Collier about the impact Barrientes Vela left on the staff that remained at the Pct. 2 constable’s office.
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