While APD Detective Zach Stephenson was working on his golf game at Puerto del Sol in the Southeast Heights on Oct. 26, thieves broke into his unmarked police truck and made off with quite a bounty.
Among the items stolen after the thieves broke a window in Stephenson’s truck: a semi-automatic assault rifle, a “flash bang” distraction device and a shotgun that fires Taser prongs – all department-issued – and Stephenson’s personal bulletproof body armor, gym bag and other personal items, according to police.
Deputy Police Chief Paul Feist said in an interview Wednesday that none of the items has been recovered, but officers were notified of the stolen weapons through an internal alert.
Authorities are searching for a suspect, Feist said, adding that it is common for thieves to break into police cars.
“There are burglaries in police cars all the time,” he said. “We get tens of them … every month where there are police cars broken into … This is just one of them this month. It’s no different than any other one – they break in, they take our radios, they break in, they take our personal things.”
But he said it is far less common for them to get their hands on weapons.
Stephenson’s chain of command is conducting an “internal review” to determine whether the detective was negligent in any way.
Feist said the review is focused on whether Stephenson was on duty; whether the items stolen should have been in an undercover pickup truck and whether they were secured inside it; and whether Stephenson violated any department policies.
Stephenson could not be reached for comment.
Stephenson is assigned to the elite Repeat Offender Project, known as the ROP team, which has an office across Gibson Boulevard from the golf course. ROP team officers work in plain clothes and are responsible for tracking and arresting the worst of the worst of Albuquerque’s criminals.
Stephenson’s fellow ROP team detective, Derek Wright, wrote a police report on the auto burglary. According to an APD records technician, the report named the city of Albuquerque as the victim and Stephenson as the reporting party. The report was not available for review Wednesday because a sergeant hadn’t yet approved it, the tech said.
Feist said Wright had been hitting golf balls on the driving range at Puerto del Sol with Stephenson at the time of the theft. That’s why Wright took the report. A field investigator also came to the scene to dust Stephenson’s truck for fingerprints, Feist said.
The internal review will work its way eventually to Feist, who oversees the ROP team.
He said it appears the alleged theft took place around 5 p.m. and that Stephenson had gotten off work at 4:30 p.m.
Because of his assignment, Stephenson is “on-call 24/7,” and for that reason he’s allowed to take his city vehicle wherever he wants, Feist said.
The vehicle was locked at the time of the break-in, he said. Stephenson’s weapons were covered inside the truck, but they weren’t locked away.
The review could lead to a full-blown Internal Affairs investigation, Feist said. If that happens, it would be the second time this year that Stephenson was an IA target.
In August, he received a letter of reprimand following an IA investigation into his handling of a potential criminal case against a former APD officer and colleague of Stephenson’s.
A Journal story in June about a phone conversation between Stephenson and a former colleague, fired police officer Brad Ahrensfield, prompted the inquiry.
Stephenson was one of three officers investigating allegations against Ahrensfield, who was free pending appeal of his conviction on federal charges of obstruction of justice for tipping off a friend about a joint federal-APD investigation.
Feist directed the ROP team in February to investigate whether Ahrensfield illegally possessed several firearms while working for a licensed private investigator; demanded payment of back wages in exchange for returning files belonging to the private investigator; and tried to persuade an APD officer not to testify in a DWI case.
No additional charges were filed as a result of the probe.
A transcript of a May 7 telephone call between the two showed Stephenson indicated to Ahrensfield he was investigating the allegations and told him “there’s nothing there” and that the ROP team planned to “just put it away and forget about it.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal