Bexar County Constable Denies Wrongdoing in Accusation of Forced Payment for Security

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Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Joe Gonzales speaks after being sworn in.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has signed a policy relaxing criminal charges on some marijuana misdemeanor cases.

Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela (Pct. 2) fired indignant comments at the Bexar County commissioners at their Tuesday meeting after a story about her possible removal was published in a local newspaper.

“I have done nothing wrong,” she told the commissioners while flanked by more than a dozen of her deputies.

Vela appeared at commissioners court after learning that Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff had asked District Attorney Joe Gonzales to brief commissioners on the removal process for an elected official.

However, Gonzales said he decided not to appear in front of commissioners Tuesday due to a conflict of interest because the district attorney’s office is representing Vela in an unrelated civil lawsuit.

“We are in a bit of an awkward situation,” Gonzales told the Rivard Report. “We are her lawyers. It would create a conflict of interest to be representing the county and at the same time be proceeding to do something like this. That’s not to say at some point we won’t be ready to go forward on a presentation for removal, but this is not the appropriate time. We are asking to allow us to wait until it is appropriate.”

Gonzales said two of Vela’s employees filed a complaint against her with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year. The EEOC did not return immediate requests for comment.

Vela drew the attention of county commissioners after a local resident, Jesus Reyes, complained that the constable forced him to pay her deputies on Easter for providing security. Reyes said Vela showed up in uniform at Rodriguez Park on the West Side, where he had reserved a pavilion and required payment of $50 an hour, though the county had already arranged for peace officers to watch all county parks that day, according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News.

Vela said Tuesday that she had attempted to rent the same pavilion that Reyes had reserved, and was told by parks management that she would not be able to use it. She said she instead paid $47 to use a kitchen in the area. She said that she saw guests at Reyes’ event drinking alcohol and told them they needed to pay for security, and that Reyes gave her $50 an hour, which she said is the typical rate for a holiday per officer. He gave her $50 an hour for two officers total.

“No one ever squeezed money out of anyone,” she said.

Another resident had a similar interaction with Vela on Easter, according to a report from Thomas Guevara, chief of staff to the county manager. The resident’s family had paid $300 for security to the Constable Precinct 2 office for an event scheduled from 2-8 p.m. When family members showed up at Rodriguez Park at 8 a.m. to set up, Vela told them they could not be there until security arrived.

“The constituent left the park feeling disappointed in how her family was treated by the constable, stated that Constable Vela was ‘confrontational,’ and had received conflicting information about Precinct 2 Constable Office on when they could set up,” the report stated.

As for Vela’s potential removal from office, Gonzales said any resident of Bexar County who has lived in the county for more than six months can submit a petition asking that she be removed.

“If a citizen files a petition for her removal, it’s basically a lawsuit,” he said. “It gets put on the court docket, and it begins the court process. We wouldn’t have any direct involvement in that.”

But while the district attorney’s office continues to represent Vela in the EEOC lawsuit, he will not brief the commissioners on how the removal process works, Gonzales said.

Meanwhile, the Easter incidents prompted commissioners to examine how security is provided at county parks and other rules regulating their use. They voted Tuesday to establish a new parks policy, and staff was directed to review all regulations of county parks. 

Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said he looked at the “hodge-podge” of security and rental policies in county parks and found that policies had not been reviewed since 1995.

“If you were renting a pavilion in a precinct in one park, you had to go through a certain office to get security,” he said. “In another precinct, you might go through the constable. I said it might make sense to have uniformity.”

Staff will also work on a streamlined policy to determine what events require security and when to hire officers to provide that security, as well as putting payment and reservations into one department, Rodriguez said.

“I think we at least gave staff some direction today to provide for a consistent policy so it’s transparent, and constituents can understand how to make payments or process payments regardless if they’re renting a facility in precinct 1, 2, or 4,” he said.

10 thoughts on “Bexar County Constable Denies Wrongdoing in Accusation of Forced Payment for Security

  1. County and city law enforcement officers should NEVER be for hire by private entities (especially when they are elected county officials). They already have a job, and should never give the appearance of being “for sale.” What would commissioners say if one of their own took a part-time job bagging groceries for H-E-B? This constable makes nearly six figures in annual salary! It’s a clear ethical conflict, and tacit county approval of armed extortion by elected officials: The Wild West.

  2. I’m wondering why this toy, mall-cop has a uniform with 4 stars on the collar? What, is she also the admiral of the Woodlawn Lake Navy?
    And she was at the meeting surrounded by her deputies? What deputies? What do they do? Better yet, what does SHE do? Especially for $94K a year.
    I would have to say nothing.
    If the Commissioners Court really wants to do something about this, do away with the constables. They are grossly overpaid for doing nothing, and still shake-down citizens.
    This woman is a fraud, and corrupt as they come.

  3. I want to applaud Commissioner Justin Rodriguez for recommending that the County develop a consistent and uniform rental and security policy for pavilion use. We are in the 21st century and things of this nature are an embarrassment.

    • Consistency is great, but allowing county and city officers to rent themselves out to the highest bidder will always be problematic. As long as they’re wearing a government-issued badge/gun and cashing that government-issued check, they should be working for all of us or none of us!

  4. How does a citizen from Bexar County start a petition to remove this Constable from her position? Nelson Wolf mentioned this in the Commissioner’s court on Tuesday May 21, 2019.

    • My understanding is that you don’t actually start a sign-up sheet, you petition the court. You (individually) file suit against the elected official (who still carries a gun, and might arrest you). Call your County Commissioner’s office for more details… But I wonder why SAPD can’t just haul her in for three separate potential Class A misdemeanors (assuming she allegedly fleeced two families for a total of $600): official oppression, theft (extortion), and abuse of official capacity!

      “39.03. OFFICIAL OPPRESSION. (a) A public servant acting under color of his office or employment commits an offense if he: (1) intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or
      to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that he knows is unlawful; (2) intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful; or (3) intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment. (b) For purposes of this section, a public servant acts under color of his office or employment if he acts or purports to act in an official capacity or takes advantage of such actual or purported capacity.”

  5. Am I the only one that’s concerned with the fact that taxpayers are forced to pay for security to use a park that’s already paid for by their tax dollars? We have an entire department of Sheriff’s Deputies…what are they doing that they can’t be guarding the parks?

    And I’m curious if the churches pay the city and/or county when their officers are needed to direct traffic. If that service is indeed provided for free as a safety assurance, why wouldn’t guarding the parks be in the same purview?

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