Bexar County on Wednesday took steps to remove Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela, who has been involved in a string of controversies culminating in a raid earlier this week of her office and home by the FBI and Texas Rangers.
Speaking to reporters Monday as the raid was occurring, Vela told a news station that she intends to run for Bexar County Sheriff in 2020. The Bexar County District Attorney’s office said that amounted to a declaration of her candidacy, triggering a state law that effectively ended her tenure as constable.
“We have little difficulty concluding that the constable’s statements were of such certainty that a reasonable person could conclude that the constable intends, without qualification, to seek the office of sheriff in the upcoming 2020 election,” Civil Section Chief Larry Roberson wrote in a letter to County Judge Nelson Wolff on Wednesday. Wolff said he asked the district attorney’s office to give an opinion on the matter earlier this week.
Constables are licensed peace officers and do not answer to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, as they are their own law enforcement entity. Bexar County constables execute all court orders and support the justice of the peace courts in their precincts.
Under the Texas Constitution, officeholders such as constables automatically resign from their post if they announce candidacy for any other elected office if their term has at least one year and one month left. Vela’s first term was to end on Dec. 31, 2020.
Roberson explained that although Vela effectively resigned from office after disclosing her intention to run for sheriff, it’s up to the county commissioners to appoint a replacement. Once they do, Vela would no longer be the lawful constable.
The district attorney’s office would then officially remove her from office on behalf of the State of Texas.
Vela has faced public scrutiny of her behavior in the past, including in May when a San Antonio resident accused her of extortion. Jesus Reyes claimed that Vela forced him to pay deputies $50 an hour on Easter to provide security at a park pavilion on the West Side. Another resident complained that after their family paid the constable’s office $300 for security at an event at the same park, Vela told them they could not set up for the party early without security present. Vela has denied wrongdoing in both matters. Two of her employees also filed a complaint against her with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year.
Most recently, the FBI and Texas Rangers raided her home and her office Monday. They declined to say what triggered the raid because it was part of an active investigation, according to media reports.
Wolff emphasized at a news conference Wednesday that the county is simply doing its job in replacing Vela.
“We’re enforcing the state constitution,” he said. “That’s all we’re doing today.”
Constables are peace officers elected every four years, and make an annual salary of $94,000.
County commissioners plan to hold a special session on Wednesday to select Vela’s interim replacement.
“I hope, if everyone goes right, that we’ll be able to do it next Wednesday,” Wolff said.
An application for appointment as interim constable can be found on the Bexar County website. Preference will be given to candidates with law enforcement experience who commit not to run for the office in 2020, a county spokeswoman said. Applicants have until next Monday, Sept. 30, at noon to submit a notarized application, résumé, and cover letter to the Office of the County Manager, attention of Thomas Guevera.
Vela will serve as constable of Precinct 2 in a hold-over capacity until the county finds her replacement. She and her attorney declined to comment on whether she is still running for sheriff in 2020.
“I’ve been voted by constituents and will continue to serve them, as their elected official,” she said Wednesday.