An officer with the Columbia Police Department is on paid leave because of his personal relationship with homicide victim Jesse Valencia, Police Chief Randy Boehm said Wednesday.
Boehm declined to name the officer, who he said came forward after investigators had received numerous tips about a relationship between Valencia and a member of the force.
However, people close to Valencia told the Missourian they think the 23-year-old MU student had become involved with Steven Rios, who joined the Columbia Police Department in October 1999, according to city records.
The sources said they were interviewed by detectives about the murder after police found their contact information in Valencia’s cell phone. They said they told investigators of the relationship between Valenica and Rios.
Valencia was found dead Saturday afternoon in the yard of 1517 Wilson Ave., near his East Campus apartment. His throat had been cut.
While Boehm would neither confirm nor deny that Rios was the officer placed on leave this week, he said the department had “no information at this point to suggest” the officer was involved in the murder.
“We have thoroughly investigated any possible involvement that this officer may have with that case,” Boehm said. “We have gone through all of the steps that we would go through with any possible suspect, and he is not a suspect at this time.”
Capt. Mike Martin, the department’s investigative commander, said the investigation has produced dozens of leads but has yielded no suspects yet.
Because of the relationship between Valencia and Rios, the sources said, some of Valencia’s friends and associates are hesitant to talk with the media, fearing possible retaliation from members of the police force.
“There’s a brotherhood amongst police officers,” said one source, who added that, among Valencia’s friends, “everybody is scared to death.”
Contacted at his north Columbia home Wednesday, Rios declined to answer questions about Valencia or his status with the department.