After New Mexico State Police had an AR-15 and nearly $21,000 in police gear stolen from them in a car burglary, they were helped in the case from an unlikely ally — a serial shoplifter.
Detectives spent four straight days scouring for leads and reviewing surveillance footage in the search for fellow Officer Robert Archuleta’s stolen gear before receiving the tip.
According to Officer Archuleta, who works on the NMSP’s tactical team, he was getting in his car to start the week on a Monday when he noticed he had been robbed.
“But when I got in my unit this morning, I noticed that my plate carrier wasn’t there,” he explained.
It wasn’t just his tactical vest and the plate inside that were gone. Also missing was his AR-15, scope, laser target pointer, bean bag shotgun, pole camera, double flash bang, radio headset, handheld radio, handcuffs and ammunition.
In total, the stolen gear was valued at $21,800.
After three days of searching, Albuquerque police received a tip from an unlikely source — a serial shoplifter they just arrested.
The accused shoplifter, Jayden Wheeler, was interviewed by the two detectives on the case while sitting in the back of a police car in handcuffs.
He said he had information about the case and wanted to make a deal.
“Do you think in exchange, I could walk today?” Wheeler asked.
“Well, we’re not APD. We’re state police,” a detective replied.
“I can talk to ’em, you know, but that’s totally up to you on your cooperation,” the other detective said.
Wheeler decided to do the right thing.
“OK. Either way, you know, I’d like to cooperate,” he said. “I don’t want you to think that it’s just riding on me being able to walk.”
Through Wheeler, detectives obtained the name of the prime suspect — Brandon Hinds, a convicted felon known as “Cowboy.”
According to Wheeler, Hinds asked him if he could stop by the Travel Lodge, where he was residing. When he arrived, Hinds brought the stolen gear with him and left some of it in Wheeler’s hotel room.
According to Wheeler, Hinds showed up with an “AR-15, less lethal shotgun, vest and flash grenade.”
Hinds apparently told Wheeler he was out “hitting cars” when he came across the unlocked police vehicle.
Wheeler then explained how Hinds sold the police weapons to another felon named Aldo Vargas for drugs and money.
Wheeler then provided the detectives with the phone numbers and photos of the two felons.
“You did a bad*** thing today, bro. Just freaking keep it up,” detectives told Wheeler. “Like, you’re getting a freaking bad guy off the f***ing street. And hopefully, nobody gets injured, you know what I mean? I appreciate that, bro. I know all my guys do.”
Wheeler was eventually let go by state police that night because they could not hold him on a misdemeanor charge. Later that night, police also found Archuleta’s police camera in the hotel room and corroborated Wheeler’s story.
After locating Vargas’ cousin Michael Arnold, police were led to the Isleta Resort & Casino Hotel, where they were told Vargas was staying.
A SWAT team took Vargas into custody while he was smoking fentanyl beside a toddler in his hotel room.
“Obviously, this is a big deal. We don’t do this every day. Go into hotels, disrupt the whole order of the hotels and all that for something small. So, I need you to tell me how you came in possession of what you have, all the things that you have, and where I can find this guy at,” an NMSP officer told Vargas.
When Vargas refused to comply, detectives pushed harder.
“The wheel’s about to f***ing fall off. That’s how tired we are, bro. And we’ve been on it since. Like, we weren’t gonna stop. It’s our s***,” a detective told Vargas.
Vargas claimed that he did not pay Cowboy for the items but was just holding on to them for his cousin. He accurately directed detectives to trash bags in a white car at his house that contained all the items besides the laser pointer and the radio.
Vargas was later charged with receiving stolen property and possessing a firearm as a felon.
Months later, police arrested Hinds for aggravated burglary in the case of Archuleta’s car, and later for new charges stemming from another car burglary incident.
Wheeler was also arrested again for shoplifting and drug charges months after failing to testify against Hinds.
It’s not clear if Archuleta was disciplined for leaving his car unlocked.