ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Stephen Wills was not supposed to be working as a security guard the morning he was gunned down in the parking lot of a Southeast Albuquerque apartment complex earlier this month.
The 46-year-old had never been licensed by the state to do that job, but was patrolling nonetheless, a violation of state law. His employer, however, said Wills had completed the required training by a state-certified instructor. The company, International Strategic Partners, is now under state investigation for allegedly allowing guards such as Wills to work without licenses. The Regulation and Licensing Department announced the investigation Thursday evening.
“Security guards cannot legally work without a license and the Regulation and Licensing Department will take action against any company that practices without a license or hires security guards who are unlicensed,” spokesman Ben Cloutier said in an email Friday.
People who want to become security guards must go through training from a state-certified instructor, then must submit a registration application to the state. ISP owner William Albrecht said that Wills completed the required training and that Albrecht provided a copy of a training certificate for Wills dated January 28, 2016.
In an interview with the Journal on Thursday evening, Albrecht said he was not aware that Wills was not licensed. He claimed that paperwork for Wills’ license was submitted, and said there’s a backlog at the licensing department that could have contributed. He also said the licensing department may have lost it.
“Steve Wills was trained by state guidelines. All that’s missing is paying $50 to the state,” he said.
Albrecht also said he believed that guards could work once they completed training, while they were waiting for their licenses.
According to the training certificate provided by Albrecht, Wills completed training five months before he was killed.
Cloutier said the wait for a license is only one week. And he said the state never received an application or any documentation regarding Wills.
“It appears that Mr. Albrecht is hurling baseless allegations in an attempt to distract from his company’s alleged misconduct,” Cloutier said.
Albrecht offered to provide the Journal with an employee list to verify whether his other employees were licensed.
“If someone slipped through the cracks, I’ll make sure it never happens again,” he said. “That’s all I can do.”
He did not return calls Friday and had not provide a list by Friday evening.
And it appears that at least one other guard slipped through the cracks – Isaac Barnes, an ISP guard who earlier this year was charged with aggravated battery with great bodily harm for allegedly using a security vehicle to run into a homeless man on a bike. The case was later dropped after Barnes testified in front of a grand jury.
State licensing records show that Barnes’ security license expired in 2011. But he was working for ISP on April 25 of this year, and Cloutier said he is not currently licensed. It’s unknown if Barnes still works for ISP.
Police have released few details about Wills’ death, and no arrests had been made by Friday. ISP is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
The information police have released is that Wills, an Army veteran who was well-liked by the apartment complex’s residents, was shot and killed while on duty at the Pearl at Spring Creek apartments near San Pedro and Gibson SE in the early morning hours of July 15.
The training level that Albrecht says Wills completed wouldn’t have allowed him to carry a firearm.
Rosalio and Eva Carrasco were staying at Eva Carrasco’s sister’s apartment on the northeast edge of the complex early that morning. Eva Carrasco said she and her husband went to open the windows because it was hot, and that’s when they heard shots ring out.
They saw a man – whom they described as Hispanic or Native American, 5 feet 6 inches tall, wearing a dark long sleeve shirt and baggy jeans – casually walking away from the passenger side of Wills’ security SUV.
They ran outside and found Wills still in his vehicle, slumped over. He’d been shot in the torso they said, and he couldn’t be revived. The man they thought might be a suspect disappeared into a neighboring apartment complex.
“I just wish somebody would do something about it,” Eva Carrasco said. “Somebody knows something. I don’t understand how this person took a life like that.”
Whether having a license would have helped Wills the morning he was killed is not clear. Albrecht says it makes no difference because he completed the proper training.
“To say he wasn’t properly trained is, it’s ludicrous to me,” he said. “Nothing could have prevented that.”