SAN ANTONIO – The lead investigator in the Michelle Barrientes Vela public corruption case was held in contempt of court Wednesday after a judge ruled that he violated a court order not to testify about other allegations against the ex-constable.
Ranger Bradley Freeman, whose testimony this fall was crucial in getting a jury to convict Barrientes Vela on two felony counts of tampering with records, apologized to the court for mentioning a separate official oppression case while that jury was present.
“It was my third day testifying. I was tired and I made a mistake,” Freeman said Wednesday while being questioned on the witness stand by his attorney.
Freeman was in the same seat exactly three months ago when he testified on Aug. 30 that he believed Barrientes Vela had tampered with records and committed official oppression.
Attorneys for Barrientes Vela immediately asked for a mistrial and said at the time it was a deliberate attempt to influence the jury on allegations against their client that were not part of this trial.
The guilt-innocence portion of Barrientes Vela’s trial focused specifically on allegations that she tampered with records and created false payment logs for security provided at a West Side park.
Judge Velia Meza had put an order in place stating that attorneys and witnesses were not to bring up allegations against Barrientes Vela outside of the tampering charges, which included official oppression and causing a hostile work environment during her tumultuous 33-month tenure in charge of Bexar County Precinct 2.
Meza that day denied the motion for mistrial but ordered Freeman to appear at a later date for a “show cause” hearing.
After Freeman described the incident as a “simple slip” of his brain, Judge Meza criticized him, mentioning the years of preparation the defense and prosecution put into preparing for the trial.
“Your obligation as an officer does not end when you think it ends,” said Judge Meza, who added that the impact of Freeman’s comment is still not fully known.
“I don’t know the effect of your testimony yet because I’m sure they’re going to appeal. So we’ll see what the Fourth Court (of Appeals) says about what happens,” said Judge Meza, referring to a likely forthcoming appeal of the ex-constable’s conviction.
Judge Meza, who recommended Freeman be fined $500 and required to take a course on how to testify properly, also reserved some criticism for prosecutor Dawn McCraw, who was questioning Freeman at the time of the verbal slip.
“And probably she has one foot under the bus along with you for this,” said Judge Meza.
Judge Sid Harle, presiding judge for the Fourth Administrative Judicial Region, will be forwarded Judge Meza’s ruling and will ultimately decide whether her ruling and proposed punishment are appropriate.
Freeman and his attorney, Christopher Lindsey, declined to comment as they left court Wednesday.
Barrientes Vela faces between two years probation and 10 years in prison when her sentencing resumes in early January.