Police seize items from Rios’ home

The officer, being held in a mental facility, resigns from the force after nearly three years.
Thursday, June 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:31 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

An investigative report released Wednesday said police searched the home of Columbia Police Officer Steven Rios on Friday for a folding knife, clothing and “trace evidence to include blood, hairs, fibers, or any other evidence related to the murder of Jesse Valencia.”

Police found clothes and trace materials, according to an inventory of the search, but no folding knife. Valencia, a 23-year-old MU student, was found dead on June 5 with his throat cut.

Also on Wednesday, Rios resigned from the police force through a letter delivered by Rios’ attorney Marsha Fischer to Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm. Rios had been with the department since November 2001.

Boehm again said Rios is not a suspect in the case.

“The fact that we served a search warrant only means that we have cause to want to check a particular location for particular items,” Boehm said.

In the search, two pair of khaki shorts were seized from Rios’ home. Police also collected trace material from two bathrooms, including contents of the drain traps, and a Missouri State Highway Patrol uniform shirt from the garage. A pair of black sandals also were seized from the home.

The affidavit requesting a search of Rios’ property provides the most comprehensive account of the officer’s actions the night of the homicide so far. However, some details given by Rios show inconsistencies.

For more than an hour on Friday night, investigators combed Rios’ property for a clip-on folding knife. Some officers, including Rios’ fielding training officer, said Rios carried a knife in his pocket on a regular basis. In an interview with detectives, though, Rios denied carrying such a knife, according to the document.

Boehm could not confirm whether Rios carried a knife.

“It is certainly fairly common for officers to carry a knife,” Boehm said. “I wouldn’t limit it to a particular type.”

Interviews also showed inconsistencies regarding the time frame of Rios’ whereabouts during the early morning hours of June 5. According to an affidavit submitted by Detective Jeff Nichols, Rios met with friends following his patrol shift, which ended at 3 a.m. Witnesses said he left the social gathering alone at approximately 4:40 a.m.

Rios originally said he left the gathering at 5 a.m. But in a second interview, Rios said he left at 5:15 a.m. His wife verified his arrival home at approximately 5:25 a.m.

According to the affidavit, investigators traveled the route from the social gathering to the victim’s apartment, then to Rios’ residence.

“There would have been adequate time for him to travel to the victim’s residence, spent (sic) time there, then travel home,” the affidavit stated.

The affidavit also revealed an inconsistency regarding the clothing Rios wore. He said in the initial interview that he wore a dark blue T-shirt and khaki shorts when he got off work. Witnesses at the social gathering said Rios wore a gray Eddie Bauer T-shirt. No Eddie Bauer T-shirt was taken from the house.

Rios admitted to a homosexual relationship with the victim, the affidavit stated. It also reported an acquaintance of Valencia said the MU student planned to reveal the relationship to Boehm.

At 2 p.m. on June 5, Valencia’s body was found at 1517 Wilson Ave., near his East Campus apartment on 1414 Wilson Ave.

Boehm disclosed a relationship between Valencia and an officer on the force on June 9, and said the officer was granted personal leave. Hours after the married Rios was named as the officer on June 10, he was taken into protective custody following a call to the department threatening to harm himself with a shotgun. Boehm changed Rios’ status to administrative leave, and the officer was placed in the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center.

On Friday evening, Rios escaped from the center, ran to the top of a nearby parking garage, and stood on the upper ledge for almost two hours until negotiators talked him down. The officers’ search of Rios’ property ended minutes after his escape. Rios has since been moved to a more secure facility in Fulton.

Capt. Mike Martin, investigative commander for Columbia Police Department, said Rios remains a “subject” of the investigation, but there are no suspects at this time.

Boehm said the officer was one of several people of interest to the investigation. Records show no search warrants have been issued for other residences in connection to Valencia’s death.

According to an affidavit, Valencia had bruises indicating a struggle. The report stated the assailant might “have injuries consistent with an assault.”

Police issued warrants to four local medical clinics to search records for names of possible assault victims. Nothing was taken from the clinics, according to police documents.

Investigators have also obtained correspondence from Valencia’s MU e-mail account.

On Tuesday, Boehm said Rios could be released after 96 hours of protective custody. Felix Vincenz, chief executive officer at Fulton State Hospital, said if a patient is put in the facility, the 96 hours may not begin immediately.

“Generally, no, the 96 hours is working days,” Vincenz said. “So if someone, say, were committed let’s say on a Saturday morning, the 96 hours wouldn’t start ticking until Monday morning. The 96 hours would start on Monday so they’d get out on Thursday.”

— Missourian reporter Kate Moser contributed to this report.

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