LA JUNTA, Colo. (KRDO) -- The La Junta City Council unanimously censured City Councilman Ed Vela on Tuesday after an independent investigation substantiated allegations that he looked at girls changing in city hall and tried to intimidate witnesses.
On Feb. 21, 2023, Synchronicity Dance Productions, a local performance company in La Junta for teens and young adults, was invited to the city council meeting to announce their newest production.
After the meeting, the mother of one of the performers filed a complaint that city councilman Ed Vela was trying to look inside the room where the female performers were changing after asking for tissues.
“I told him girls were dressing and he could not enter,” the complaint stated, which was read during a public city council meeting on April 17. “He didn’t seem deterred in the slightest and advised he needed a tissue while looking past me into the room (where the girls were changing).”
During that same council meeting, Vela claimed the allegations are a “big lie.” He told 13 Investigates he didn’t look into the room and he didn’t see anything.
“The door was only open four inches and they closed the door immediately,” he said. “I heard her say, ‘He wants a Kleenex.’ About five seconds later, a whole box of Kleenex came out to me.”
At a council meeting on May 15, La Junta Mayor Joseph Ayala claimed Vela, his uncle, sent the city attorney a “proposal,” which stated the person that filed the complaint needed to recant her story or “there would be damning information released about the mayor.”
Ayala said he thought about filing a complaint against Vela because the proposal was “borderline blackmail and extortion.” Instead, the council voted to hire Investigations Law Group from Denver to look into the allegations against Vela.
“This has been a distraction to the city doing normal city business,” said La Junta City Manager Rick Klein. “We're trying to get a 1% sales tax passed and this kind of deviates from that.”
The investigation completed last month found that Vela “more likely than not” intentionally looked into the office where the girls were changing and attempted to influence the investigation by intimidating witnesses.
According to the investigation report, Vela didn’t deny that he looked into the office where the girls were changing. During a council meeting, Vela said women’s “skirts have gotten higher and collars have gotten lower.” The report claims it’s “evidence that he could not be held accountable for the ‘human behavior’ of looking into the office.”
The report also said he confronted the person who filed the complaint and hired a private investigator to “determine the honesty and decency of those involved. The person who filed the complaint said she felt “like he was trying to press me to change my story about what happened the day of the council meeting. His comment as he was leaving felt like it was meant to intimidate me,” according to the investigation report.
“The mayor along with the city manager and the city attorney, to some extent, conspired in a six-week period to develop this kind of case against me,” Vela said. “They didn't talk to me for six weeks about any of (the allegations). They just left me in limbo. The other council persons have been seemingly hypnotized by Joe (Ayala) and I really didn't have a chance.”
On Tuesday, the La Junta City Council held an hour-and-a-half-long administrative hearing to discuss the findings of the investigation. Both the City of La Junta and Vela were allowed to argue their side of the story. This included Vela reenacting the scene from Feb. 21, where he knocks on the door of the office where the girls were changing and asks for tissues.
“As you make this decision, think about the rules and think about the facts,” Vela’s attorney told the city council during the hearing. “About 25 seconds the girls were protected because the door was barely cracked. The girls were protected because the ones at the door shut the door so fast that it prevented anyone from committing any egregious acts.”
“You didn’t have to find out what was going on in that room,” the City Attorney Phil Malouff said to Vela during the hearing. “You had plenty of other places to get your Kleenex. Doggonit Mr. Vela, you wanted to know what was going on in that room so you took it upon yourself to come up with a lame excuse that you wanted a Kleenex.”
After the arguments, the city council voted 5-0 to censure Vela. La Junta City Manager Rick Klein said the censure is a “slap on the wrist.”
“What it does is it puts it on the public record that you've done something wrong and you need to pay attention to it,” Klein said.
Vela is still able to attend council meetings and vote until his term ends. At that time, Vela hopes to be elected mayor, as he is running against two other candidates. He tells 13 Investigates he is not dropping from the race after being censured.
“I have no intention (to drop from the mayoral race),” he said. In my heart, I have done nothing wrong.”