Constable’s actions merit criminal investigation
The questionable Easter Day antics of Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela at a county park merit criminal investigation.
The first-term constable first tried to deprive a man of the use of a pavilion at Rodriguez Park — for which he had paid a rental fee 12 months earlier — by telling him his reservation had been canceled. She wanted the space for her own family. This is according to the family she was allegedly trying to oust.
When that ploy did not work, she coerced him, the family said, into paying her a $50-an-hour security so he could remain in the space. He ended up forking over $300 to Vela and her chief deputy, Anthony Castillo, before he ran out of money and left.
Commissioners Court, which has jurisdiction over the parks, had made arrangements for extra security at the park for the holiday. It had also waived a requirement that parties of more than 50 people and serving alcohol hire private security for their festivities. This information had been forwarded to Vela, said Bexar County Heritage & Parks Department Director Betty Bueché.
If all this is factual, Vela’s behavior is unbecoming of any law enforcement officer. It is even more egregious when one of those law enforcement officers is an elected official earning close to $94,000 who has sworn to uphold the law and ensure the safety of all Bexar County residents.
Spending Easter in a public park is a time-honored tradition among many Bexar County families. If the facts are as presented, Vela took advantage of the situation, going rogue and imposing her own rules. That is unacceptable.
The constable has some serious explaining to do. Under what authority could she collect the security fee from the parkgoer? Where did the money go? Vela told the man she collected $300 in security fees, telling him “there were new rules” in place when he questioned her money demands. If there are new rules, they were imposed by Vela. She did not have the authority do what is alleged.
The Texas Rangers or federal law enforcement need to step in and conduct an investigation. The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office has a conflict of interest on this because the office is representing the constable in another legal matter in her official capacity as an elected officeholder.
Vela has shown a troubling pattern of behavior since taking office in 2017. Her activities came under scrutiny by the previous district attorney’s office after it was discovered her deputies were executing warrants improperly and collecting fines from defendants without taking them before a judge.
Some of the earlier problems are understandable because they happened early in her first term in office. It could have stemmed from lack of familiarity with the job. However, Vela spent a few months working as a deputy constable for Precinct 2 Constable Mark Vojvodich in 2010 and 2011 and should have been familiar with the duties of the constable’s office.
Most recently she has tried to file criminal charges against a deputy who filed complaints against her, sued her for sex discrimination and has announced intentions to challenge her on the ballot in 2020.
Bexar County does not need elected law enforcement officials who make up the rules as they see fit or use the power of their office for acts of retaliation. At the very least it’s an abuse of power that carries serious legal liabilities for the county.
It is the taxpayers who have to foot the legal cost for the irresponsible antics of any elected official.