The 10 biggest revelations from the Barrientes Vela lawsuit depositions

Bexar County has settled various lawsuits filed by Pct. 2 deputies for $467,000 this year

SAN ANTONIO – More than eight hours of civil deposition testimony from Precinct 2 deputies Leonicio Moreno and Christopher De La Cerda included comprehensive descriptions of past scandals involving indicted ex-constable Michelle Barrientes Vela.

The infamous Galveston hot tub incident, the basis for Moreno’s 2018 lawsuit against his then-boss, was chronicled by both deputies while they testified on camera last September.

But the day-long proceedings also included a significant amount of eye-opening testimony that will almost certainly play a role in Barrientes Vela’s upcoming public corruption trial, tentatively scheduled to begin at the end of this month.

WATCH: ‘Downfall:’ The story of ex-Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela, a KSAT 12 Defenders special

Here are the 10 biggest revelations from the taped depositions:

Barrientes Vela attempted to create a bicycle unit for older, out-of-shape deputies

Deputy Moreno testified that shortly after Barrientes Vela took office, she came up with the idea of using bicycles purchased by a former constable to create a bike patrol unit. The goal was to use the unit to push out deputies Barrientes Vela no longer wanted working for her.

“And these were older, heavy, heavier weight people and she wanted them to do this bike obstacle stuff and if they can’t pass it, they were going to be terminated,” testified Moreno.

Moreno specifically named three deputies, all of whom left Precinct 2 while Barrientes Vela was still in office, county records show. After Moreno objected to the idea, he testified that he and De La Cerda were forced to go through the bicycle training themselves. Moreno testified that Barrientes Vela then abandoned the idea.

Barrientes Vela political supporter harassed Moreno outside of work

After Deputy Moreno filed to run against Barrientes Vela in the 2020 election, he testified that a political supporter of Barrientes Vela began to repeatedly harass him in public. Moreno recalled one specific incident in which the woman, Mary Jane Martinez, showed up at a women’s self-defense class he was teaching.

“Then she posted on her social media that this individual (Moreno) shouldn’t be teaching women,” testified Moreno.

He testified that Martinez continually interrupted his appearances at various political rallies while he attempted to campaign.

Pct. 2 Deputy Constable Leonicio Moreno talks about his treatment in Pct. 2 office
Pct. 2 Deputy Constable Leonicio Moreno talks about his treatment in Pct. 2 office

Precinct 2 deputies forced De La Cerda to hand over his service weapon

Deputy De La Cerda testified that just like Moreno, he was ordered to hand over his service weapon after his fellow Precinct 2 deputies showed up at his house.

“I looked for a bag because I was afraid if I came out with the gun, I could possibly get shot by my peers,” testified De La Cerda, who put the unloaded weapon and magazines in a paper sack.

He testified that Captain Marc Garcia, who is criminally charged along with Barrientes Vela, took possession of the firearm.

Moreno and De La Cerda were interviewed by SAPD in early 2019

Both deputies testified at length about being interviewed in February 2019 by a white collar crimes detective with the San Antonio Police Department.

Moreno, specifically, testified that Barrientes Vela and members of her administration led him to believe he was being investigated for a crime. “I had this weight on my shoulders. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep,” testified Moreno.

Once at SAPD headquarters, Moreno testified that the detective was highly critical of Barrientes Vela.

“I remember him coming out of the elevator and he says ‘you know what, I don’t know what the heck your boss is trying to do, but I ain’t playing this game,” testified Moreno. He said the brief interview was in regards to an allegation that a county civilian court clerk had been illegally searching whether any arrest warrants had been issued for Moreno or De La Cerda.

“‘Your boss is nuts,’ he says, ‘that lady is crazy,’” testified De La Cerda, when recalling the detective’s comments during his interview.

The Defenders could find no record that the clerk was ever criminally charged. SAPD officials declined to release any information related to the interviews.

Barrientes Vela tampered with deputy 201 files

Long before she was indicted on allegations that she tampered with security payment logs for Rodriguez Park, Barrientes Vela manipulated the personnel files of her own deputies, De La Cerda testified.

“Against my advice or recommendation, she started to open up these files and take documents out. I mean she created a destruction pile. I said ‘well Constable, I think we should leave those as they are, because it’s a complete history of that particular deputy,” testified De La Cerda, referring to the personnel documents, commonly called 201 files.

De La Cerda also testified that Barrientes Vela became “highly irate” when she looked at her own file and found paperwork from her time as a reserve deputy with the Bexar County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office.

De La Cerda hung out by the jail following Moreno’s arrest

When Deputy Moreno was arrested on an aggravated perjury charge in late April 2019, Deputy De La Cerda was so certain he would be arrested as well that he stayed outside the Bexar County Jail waiting to turn himself in.

“It would be a thrill for her to come and kick my door in,” testified De La Cerda, referring to Barrientes Vela.

De La Cerda testified that he dropped his family off and then parked near the jail, periodically checking with a bail bonds company to see if he had an active warrant.

De La Cerda ended up not being criminally charged.

The felony charge against Moreno was tossed out a day after his arrest. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales later stated publicly that he did not believe Moreno had committed a crime.

Pct. 2 deputy constable Chris De La Cerda talks about treatment in Pct. 2 office
Pct. 2 deputy constable Chris De La Cerda talks about treatment in Pct. 2 office

The attorney hired by the county sympathized with Moreno

Near the end of Deputy Moreno’s testimony, Erin McNiece, the attorney hired to represent Bexar County in the various lawsuits and the one who asked a vast majority of the deposition questions, acknowledged that she did not care for how Moreno had been treated. “I knew who you were before I was retained to defend Bexar County in this case and what I knew was I didn’t like what I saw was happening to you,” said McNiece.

McNiece, at one point while questioning De La Cerda, asked, “Did Marc Garcia appear to be an extension of Constable Vela and her venom?”

Precinct 2 patrol vehicles circled Moreno’s home every time he called in sick

Deputy Moreno testified that every time he would call in sick to work, Precinct 2 patrol vehicles would drive by his home. He testified that his home surveillance cameras recorded footage of this practice. He said at times both marked and unmarked units would be parked near his home. “It was kind of that cat and mouse, just that feeling of what’s going to happen next,” testified Moreno.

Moreno placed on “Brady list” after TCOLE investigation

After Deputy Moreno was fired and then reinstated in 2018, he was informed that he had been added to the District Attorney’s “Brady list.” The list is used to alert attorneys to members of law enforcement who have credibility issues.

Moreno did not know how long he was on the list, only that he was added after the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement gave him a permanent reprimand for his reporting of training hours.

Moreno was fired following an investigation in early 2018, but was reinstated following a hearing before the Bexar County Civil Service Commission.

De La Cerda kept his phone in a cooler in his car for emergencies

Since deputies Moreno and De La Cerda were not allowed to enter secure areas of the Precinct 2 offices, upon being reinstated in 2018, they were forced to take extreme measures to accomplish simple tasks, such as checking on loved ones, both men testified.

De La Cerda testified that he would keep his cell phone in a cooler with an ice pack inside his vehicle, so he had a way to communicate with his family while on lunch break. “The conditions were really bad,” testified De La Cerda, after pausing to gather his emotions.

Deputy Christopher De La Cerda gets emotional while testifying on September 23, 2020 as part of a civil lawsuit filed against ex-constable Michelle Barrientes Vela. (KSAT)

Bexar County officials earlier this year settled multiple lawsuits filed by Moreno and De La Cerda in state and federal court for a combined $347,000.

A third deputy, Josh Ruiz, was paid in excess of $120,000 as part of an out-of-court settlement stemming from his separate 2019 lawsuit filed against the county.

Officials had no deposition records on file for Ruiz, who now works for the county fire marshal’s office.

Civil attorneys representing Barrientes Vela, Garcia, Moreno and De La Cerda declined to comment for this story.


About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. He provides restaurant health reports for KSAT's "Behind the Kitchen Door." 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.