Jesse Valencia told family and friends that he was frightened of a Columbia police officer with whom he had become involved. “Jesse was worried about himself,” said Lupe Valencia, the stepfather of the 23-year-old MU student, whose body was found June 5 in a yard about a half-block from his East Campus apartment. His throat had been cut. “He was scared of this guy.”
His mother and grandmother both said Valencia told them an officer was stalking him.
Officer Steven Rios has been placed on administrative leave by the Columbia Police Department after investigators were told of his relationship with Valencia.
Connie Baugh, Valencia’s grandmother, said Valencia would call and tell her about a police officer who wouldn’t leave him alone. She said Valencia said the officer called him often, including when he was working at the Campus Inn.
“He was calling him on his cell phone, on the hotel phone, and he just wouldn’t leave him alone,” Baugh said. “Jesse told me, ‘I don’t want nothing to do with him.’ ”
Baugh said she encouraged Jesse to cut ties with the officer.
“I told him, ‘Tell him, Jesse,’ and he said he did several times,” Baugh said. “He told me he filed a harassment complaint. I don’t know whether he did or not.”
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said no such complaint was ever filed with his office.
“I can tell you that that is not true as far as the Columbia Police Department is concerned,” Boehm said. “That would be in the form of an internal affairs complaint, and I review each and every one of those.”
Rios met Valencia when the officer responded to a complaint about an East Campus party April 18. Rios issued tickets to Valencia and another man after they attempted to stop police from arresting another person.
Deborah Davis, the mother of a close friend of Valencia’s, said soon after that, Rios started paying visits to Valencia’s apartment at 1414 Wilson Ave.
“He gave him a ticket,” Davis said. “It wasn’t too very much longer that he showed up at Jesse’s door, and it wasn’t your normal hours.”
Rios, who was assigned to Beat 35, which encompasses the north-central Columbia area, worked the 6:30 p.m. to 3 a.m shift. Boehm confirmed that Rios worked the night of the murder.
Davis said that Valencia rarely locked his doors, and that he told her the officer would let himself in to Valencia’s apartment after his shift ended.
“It wasn’t necessarily that he was invited,” said Davis, who believes Valencia was growing wary of the officer. “I think Jesse was sort of confused by the whole thing.”
On Wednesday, the department announced that an officer had been granted a personal leave because he was involved on a “personal level” with Valencia. The relationship between Rios, a married 27-year-old who joined the force in 1999, and Valencia came to the department’s attention during the course of the murder investigation.
Late Thursday night, Rios was taken into protective custody after calling Columbia police from the Kansas City area, claiming to have a shotgun and prepared to harm himself. Rios was moved to Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center at around 2 a.m. Friday, said Capt. Mike Martin, the department’s investigative commander.
After Thursday’s incident, Rios was placed on administrative leave by Boehm, who then called in the Missouri Highway Patrol to assist in the murder investigation. Rios escaped from the mental health facility shortly after 7 p.m. Friday and ranto the top of a nearby parking garage, threatening to jump from the upper level.
About two hours later, officers working with the department’s crisis negotiation team took Rios back into protective custody. Boehm said he believes Rios has been transferred to a mental health facility in Fulton.
“To the best of my knowledge, that’s where he is now,” Boehm said. “I would assume that part of the reason that they made the decision to transport him there was because there was increased security.”
Boehm said Saturday the fact that Rios threatened to harm himself was not the only reason the department is “re-evaluating” the role of Rios in the case. He declined to elaborate on investigators’ conversations with Rios.
“We continue to follow leads, and we have investigators that are in today, working the case and will be every day,” Boehm said.
Police have not named a suspect in the case, and the investigation is ongoing, Martin said.
“When we name a suspect, that person will be someone we’re seeking an arrest warrant for, and we do not have that person at this point,” Martin said.
Missourian reporter Kate Moser contributed to this report.