A Boone County judge appointed a special prosecutor Friday to handle any charges filed against former Columbia police officer Steven Rios, who had a personal relationship with slain MU student Jesse Valencia.
Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane said he asked for the appointment to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, given Rios’ role as a police witness. “Mr. Rios was a witness in a number of past and pending cases filed by my office,” Crane said.
Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton on Friday appointed Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle as the special prosecutor to determine what charges, if any, should be filed against Rios.
“Over the next few days and weeks, I will be meeting with investigators and reviewing reports,” Swingle said. “I don’t know if charges will be filed.”
Rios has not been charged with any crime and police have not named him as a suspect in Valencia’s death. Police Chief Randy Boehm said Tuesday that Rios’ status in the inquiry has not changed.
Valencia was found June 5 in his East Campus neighborhood with his throat cut. In the following week, investigators discovered Rios’ homosexual relationship with Valencia. Police searched Rios’ home June 11 for evidence related to the homicide. On June 16, Rios resigned from the police department.
Both Crane and Swingle said they had no reason to think police could not conduct an impartial investigation in the case. Boehm had previously brought in the Missouri State Highway Patrol to assist in the investigation.
Swingle said he has served as special prosecutor in more than a dozen counties.
“It is a routine and commonplace thing when (the person of interest) is a law enforcement officer the prosecutor has worked with,” Swingle said.
Crane said he has requested a special prosecutor in other instances when there has been a perceived conflict of interest. He said it happens in a small percentage of cases.