SAN ANTONIO — Former Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela and other high-ranking officials in her office are suspected of committing official oppression, tampering with evidence and perjury, a search warrant affidavit obtained Tuesday by Eyewitness Wants To Know revealed.
Vela, former Captain Marc Garcia, former Chief Deputy Anthony Castillo and Lieutenant Jeremy Miner are named in the affidavit as "suspected parties."
The documents are the first glimpse into what investigators were after in their raid of the Precinct 2 Constable's office on Sept. 23.
The affidavit, which was initially sealed following the raid, was recently made public, revealing that the Texas Rangers initiated an investigation into the office on May 9, just days after Vela had her employee and political challenger, Leonicio Moreno, arrested on aggravated perjury charges. Charges that were dismissed by the Bexar County District Attorney's Office hours later.
According to the search warrant, officials became aware of possible improprieties in the office "by way of complaints from other police officials, county officials and public complaints," in addition to Moreno's arrest.
Warrant gives timeline of 'several incidents' involving constable, Moreno
Prior to Moreno's arrest, the warrant states Vela "made several inquiries" about the status of another case involving Moreno. Vela, according to the warrant, wanted the separate case to be prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office instead of remaining under the District Attorney's Office's control.
Authorities said that Moreno was arrested shortly after those inquiries by Vela.
The warrant gives a timeline of incidents involving Moreno, starting with allegations from August 2017 in which Vela touched Moreno while in a hot tub on a work trip in Galveston. The timeline goes on to show how Moreno received oral counseling for gossiping while on lunch, demoted from acting chief to lieutenant and received verbal counseling for failing to complete TCOLE duties, the warrant states.
The timeline states that in 2018, the disciplinary actions and allegations continued with Vela in January 2018 accusing Moreno of falsifying government documents. Moreno was served with a proposed dismissal from the office the following month and later won the appeal of his termination in June 2018.
Moreno returned to work where further disciplinary actions were taken against him for incidents including failing to properly check a public restroom, for not responding to an alarm that later turned out not to be an alarm and for failing to write a report about escorting someone out of the courtroom, the warrant states.
In January, Moreno took the first steps toward running for Pct. 2 Constable and appointed a treasurer. In the month after that filing, Moreno called in sick and a welfare check was ordered which resulted in Moreno's firearm being confiscated by Miner, because Moreno was under "mental-stress," the warrant states. The next month, Vela ordered a fitness for duty evaluation for Moreno.
In March, Moreno filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in April, Vela was served with a notice that Moreno and former Deputy Constable Christopher De La Cerda were suing her based on allegations she violated their first and fourteenth amendment rights.
Moreno is arrested, booking is delayed
The warrant says days after Moreno filed his EEOC complaint, Garcia obtained a warrant for Moreno's arrest on a charge of aggravated perjury, alleging Moreno lied in his EEOC complaints.
Garcia, the warrant states, told Vela that they should take the case to the District Attorney's Office for review, to which Vela responded, she needed "something to happen now."
The warrant points out the deficiencies in the affidavit, while also noting that allegations the EEOC complaint interfered with office operations were unfounded. The warrant went on to state that officials found no evidence Vela, or anyone in her office, had been threatened, as she has repeatedly claimed in press conferences.
When Moreno was arrested, deputy constables were instructed by Miner to delay his booking so that members of the media could gather and capture his arrest, the warrant states.
After news outlets ran reports about the delayed booking, the deputy constables told officials they were called in and questioned about the booking and that Miner denied telling them to delay the booking, the warrant states.
Clerk was told Pct. 2 officials would 'visit her in jail' if Rodriguez Park paperwork wasn't in order
The warrant states investigators were looking into allegations Vela took money from Rodriguez Park patrons on Easter.
The warrant states Jesus Reyes arrived at Rodriguez Park for an Easter celebration and found Vela occupying the pavilion he rented. He confirmed his reservation, the warrant states and had Vela move.
Vela and Castillo returned to the pavilion, telling Reyes he had to pay $500 for security, which is something he'd never had to pay before, according to the warrant. Reyes agreed to pay $300 and was told he had to leave by 7 p.m.
Reyes filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Office, telling investigators he agreed to pay the money "because he felt intimidated by (Vela) and (Castillo)."
In June, Vela's office received a subpoena for records related to the Rodriguez Park incident. A clerk who handles the records called investigators worried that she would be implicated in the investigation, the warrant states.
She said when they received the initial request for records, Vela took them home and removed the cash logs, according to the warrant. She said that Vela instructed her to replace the records with a spreadsheet that eliminates the names of the officers working security and instead includes a number of officers.
"(The clerk) said many times the Constable would assign reserve deputies to work the park and they would not receive payments and the Constable would keep the fees for herself," the warrant states.
According to court documents, the clerk told investigators Vela told her to tear out the receipt for Reyes "so no records existed" regarding the park incident.
The records state that the clerk felt Vela was acting fearful after the subpoena.
"(The clerk) was told to start collecting security records and if they were not complete, she would be the one in trouble. (The clerk) was told they would 'visit her in jail' if the documents were not in order," the affidavit states.
The warrant states that the clerk also handed over documents that were not given when the office received a subpoena for them. The clerk told investigators she made copies after she was asked to sign an "absence of business records affidavit."
What was taken during the raid?
A receipt for property states that officials confiscated or imaged several electronics and seized documents relating to a Leon Valley incident, Rodriguez Park and Moreno.
According to an inventory sheet, officials seized the reservation and payment schedule for Rodriguez Park from September 2018. Officials also confiscated a counseling form dated for July 19, in the same line item, investigators have quoted "shred documents related to Rodriguez Park," though it's unclear if anyone from the office was instructed to do so.
The inventory sheet also states that four case reports were also confiscated, along with personnel reports for Miner, Vela, Garcia and Moreno.
Vela ousted from office after announcing candidacy for sheriff
A day after the raid, Vela told KENS 5 she intended to seek the office of Sheriff in 2020. County officials said the declaration invoked the so-called resign to run provision of the Texas Constitution.
Despite filing a lawsuit to prevent her ouster, Vela was unsuccessful and vacated office Oct. 10 and Commissioners Court appointed longtime Bexar County Sheriff's Deputy Leticia Vazquez to the post.
County officials said Vela fired Castillo on her last day.
On her first day in office, Vazquez announced that Garcia was demoted and subsequently placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a criminal investigation.
Vela has since formally appointed a treasurer to her Sheriff campaign.