After the last questions were asked by panelists of the three mayoral candidates, there was a moment in the Oct. 11 TAMIU debate in which a question from the audience clearly defined the difference between the three men before them — Mayor Pete Saenz, Charlie San Miguel, and Roque Vela Jr.
It wasn’t the answer that was weighted with what you needed to determine the character of the man answering. It was the question itself to candidate Roque Vela about a history of three arrests from 1996 to the latest in 2002.
In earlier answers in other debates, Vela has chalked up a 1996 arrest for felony possession of 22 pounds of marijuana (a quantity about half the size of a hay bale) to a youthful indiscretion, and he has apologized with a measure of glib contrition as he did to the TAMIU audience.
He omitted, however, the mention of a 1999 arrest by the Abilene Police Department for a fistfight and disorderly conduct and a January 22, 2002 arrest by the Laredo Police Dept. for family domestic violence, an incident in which his sister Yvonne Vela Leal gave a voluntary statement to police that Roque Vela Jr. had choked her with both hands during a dispute at the Jett Bowl. Though Vela’s sister declined to press charges or to have her injuries documented with a photograph, the police report made note of the red marks on her neck, her hysteria over the violent incident, and her brother’s cool demeanor when he was questioned and then arrested after the altercation.
In neither of his two runs for City Council, had Vela disclosed any of his wrangles with the law. Vela’s 1996 marijuana arrest by the Bexar County Sheriff’s office came to light not by his own admission, but because it surfaced near the end of his unsuccessful 2016 reelection bid for the District V Council seat.
1996: THE MARIJUANA FELONY ARREST IN SAN ANTONIO
On April 24, 1996, a sting operation by Texas Department of Public Safety officers at the UPS Air facility at San Antonio International Airport documented a package of suspected contraband shipped from Express Shippers Center in Laredo. A K-9 dog named Broussard confirmed the contraband with a positive alert to DPS Sgt. María Garza.
The package was addressed to Jerry Chapman at 8203 Meadow Fire in San Antonio, a home Roque Vela Jr. shared with other individuals.
Sgt. Garza went undercover and posed as a UPS delivery driver, bringing the package to 8203 Meadow Fire on April 25 at about 11 a.m. Vela signed for it as Jerry Chapman.
Vela was arrested in the sting operation shortly thereafter in his truck.
By 11:44 a.m. DPS officers, assisted by San Antonio PD officers and armed with a search warrant, began the search of the Meadow Fire residence. Aided by Broussard, the search continued through the afternoon and yielded about 22 pounds of marijuana, a live marijuana plant, baggies of marijuana, joints, a scale, syringes, rolling papers and other drug paraphernalia, a .380 caliber handgun, and a 1994 Dodge pickup.
On Feb. 18, 1997 Vela plead guilty and waived his right to trial. He received deferred adjudication and 10 years probation that would span from March 31, 1997 through March 31, 2007.
OTHER ARRESTS DIDN’T CATCH UP WITH TERMS OF PROBATION
It isn’t clear in the judicial record why the 1997 arrest in Abilene did not come to the attention of the San Antonio probation office. With that lapse, Vela caught a second chance on a second chance and did not face revocation of probation.
Neither, it seems, did news of Vela’s 2002 arrest in Laredo for assault and domestic family violence for choking his sister reach his probation officer, giving Vela a third chance on a second chance.
To re-cap, Vela was arrested three times between 1996 and 2002 — the marijuana felony charge and two arrests for using his hands to settle a dispute, the last two occurring within the 10-year probation period.
Vela was 22 at the time of the 1999 Abilene arrest, and perhaps some can easily enough explain it away as boys being boys, but settling a difference with your 32-year-old sister by assault and strangulation when you are 24 cannot be written off as a lapse in judgment.
A recent video that has surfaced from the swamp of questionable behaviors by politicians shows candidate Vela taking swings at and pushing someone outside a downtown establishment. His actions speak to the issue of a hair trigger temper and a man who uses his hands to settle a dispute. Vela has put spin on the incident — that he was helping a woman at the hands of a bad man — but there’s something sickening and disturbing about seeing his lack of control as his hands try to make contact with the flesh of another.
The TAMIU debate offered the rare moment of Mayor Saenz and Council member San Miguel defending themselves and each other against Vela’s venom. They spoke with civility, describing having worked well together in the past and what had been accomplished during their respective tenures.
Those who are not fans of Roque Vela Jr., and have sat through one or all recent debates, recognize that he is a bitter sore loser about no longer having a seat at the City Council dais. The takeaway after listening to him is not his plans for a better Laredo — that is lost to the ether of platitudes for progress — and what is remembered is the seething disdain he has for the Mayor.
The real value of this particular debate was a vast window opened wide to the differences in character of the three principal candidates for mayor. In comparison to Vela — whose demeanor is one of mean-spirited arrogance and stuck on a platform of twice-weekly garbage pick-up and saving Laredo taxpayers from death by TIRZ — Mayor Saenz and Charlie San Miguel looked like altar boys.
Vela speaks of bullying and fear mongering at City Hall. In this race, he is the bully.
San Miguel has admitted in interviews to a peccadillo in the past that led to an arrest for taking out some trees by driving recklessly on Country Club Drive.
Saenz has no record of arrests.
Laredo voters — except those who vote by cañonero proxy — will likely factor into their choice for mayor the character and temperament of the candidates, deciding who is in closest alignment with the values of the good and decent people of this City.