BEXAR COUNTY, Texas — Michelle Barrientes Vela, the former Bexar County constable convicted of tampering with evidence several months ago, was sentenced to five years of probation by a judge Wednesday.
A jury convicted Barrientes Vela of the charge in a widely publicized, two-week trial back in August of 2022. Barrientes was also charged with official oppression for the unlawful arrest of a deputy. That case was included in the sentencing phase of the trial, according to the District Attorney's office.
The charges brought in this case included evidence tampering and official oppression, and centered around allegations that Vela altered and created her own handwritten cash logs for security at Rodriguez Park on the city’s west side. Other disturbing allegations were made during the course of the trial.
In addition to the five years of probation, Judge Velia Meza of the 226th District Court sentenced Barrientes Vela to six years in prison but suspended that sentence. A suspended sentence means she will not have to serve prison time as long as she follows the other guidelines of her probation. Barrientes Vela was also sentenced to 90 days in jail, which was suspended pending any appeals that may take place.
The full sentence is as follows:
- Six years confinement (suspended sentence)
- Five years probation
- $2500 fine plus court costs
- 600 hours community service (Half of the hours can be bought out by contributing to SA Food Bank at $10 per hour. The remaining hours will be served at Habitat for Humanity location designated by the judge)
- No-contact order with two people named in trial
- $50 contribution to Crime Stoppers
- Moral recognition therapy course
- 90 days confinement in Bexar County Jail as condition of probation
Shortly after the verdict was read, family members loudly shouted in the courtroom and were escorted out.
After the verdict was read, the District Attorney, Joe Gonzales, responded.
"No one is above the law. This case is and has always been about holding those who abuse their power and their authority accountable. That's exactly what happened today," Gonzalez said. Gonzales says Barrientes Vela will no longer become a member of law enforcement and will not be able to carry a gun and a badge.
Defense attorneys plan to appeal the sentencing.
“I’d call it a pretty bad loss for us in the sense that we believe in Michelle and we believe that she’s not guilty. I’ve said that in the beginning and I’ll say that now," defense attorney Jason Goss told KENS 5 after the decision.
"It’ll be years before you see anything as far as the jail sanction, and it’ll be up to Michelle and her appellate counsel about how they’re going to do the probation because that can be suspended while the appeal is going,” Goss added.
Goss says he doesn't believe his client was surprised when the sentencing was handed down, but acknowledged it led to an intense moment in the judge's chambers.
”She was ready to be sentenced to prison today. I think she was prepared for everything. I think that by the time you saw the 90 days…there was an outburst in the courtroom, and that, I think, contributed more than anything to all our feelings of, it was kind of a shocking experience for everybody,” Goss said.
Earlier on Wednesday, attorneys presented closing arguments in the case, with Goss stating “the pitchforks came out” against his client throughout the trial process.
“They came out because they don’t like her,” Goss said during his closing arguments. But prosecutors believed Vela’s actions showed her to be dishonest because she was convicted of two felonies.
Prosecutors asked for six years in prison, but the defense attorneys are asking for probation. When Barrientes Vela was found guilty, the DA’s office said it was likely she would receive probation due to a lack of criminal history.
During the trial, several incidents that occurred during the former Pct. 2 constable’s time in office came to light, including an alleged hot tub incident with two of her deputies in 2017, and reports of Barrientes Vela intimidating the manager of a Dollar General store.
“She’s been kicked out of her office for hubris… we’re asking that you allow her to continue to build the life she’s developed now, allow her to continue to do the good she’s doing now,” Goss said during their arguments.
Baarrientes Vela stepped down from office after an FBI raid at the former constable’s office in September 2019.
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