ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A convicted felon allegedly broke into a New Mexico State Police Officer’s patrol car and stole more than $21,000 worth of police gear, including his AR-15 rifle. Detectives spent days trying to track it down, but it would take an accused serial shoplifter to crack their case and lead them to their gear.

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The detectives worked for four days on little sleep to track down Officer Robert Archuleta’s gear. The items were stolen from his unlocked State Police patrol car on an Albuquerque street.”Unfortunately, it does not have an alarm system in it yet. It was actually going to get installed today,” Archuleta told the detectives.

He noticed the theft on a Monday morning. Archuleta said he had not been in his patrol car since Friday afternoon.

“But when I got in my unit this morning, I noticed that my plate carrier wasn’t there,” he explained. That’s his tactical vest, along with the plate that fits inside. He would soon realize his AR-15, scope, laser target pointer, bean bag shotgun, pole camera, double flash bang, knife, radio headset, handheld radio, handcuffs, and a lot of ammunition were also missing. Archuleta is a member of NMSP’s tactical team. The stolen gear is worth about $21,800.

The accused serial shoplifter talks

So how did detectives track down the gear? Fast-forwarding to day three of their search, there was not much to go on. The investigators went door-to-door in the area where Archuleta’s car was parked for the second time, looking for home surveillance video.

Lapel camera footage showed one detective was let inside a home. The homeowner had surveillance footage that may help the investigation. Before she hit play, the detective’s phone rang. “Are you serious?” he asked. An Albuquerque Police officer said the shoplifter he just arrested knows where Archuleta’s rifle is located.

The two detectives arrive to a Home Depot in Albuquerque to chat with the accused shoplifter, Jayden Wheeler. He remained in handcuffs, sitting in the back of the Albuquerque Police car, while the detectives interviewed him.

Wheeler assured the detectives he was not a part of the theft and then asked for a deal. “Do you think in exchange, I could walk today?” Wheeler asked. One detective explained, “Well, we’re not APD. We’re State Police.”

Wheeler tried again, so the detective said, “I can talk to ’em, you know, but that’s totally up to you on your cooperation.” Wheeler decided to talk to them anyways. “Okay. 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.”

Wheeler’s initial hesitation quickly turned into him telling the detectives everything. He explained in the middle of the night, convicted felon Brandon Hinds, known as Cowboy, called him to see if he could come by the Travel Lodge where Wheeler was staying.

Wheeler: “And he comes to the door with all this f***ing s***, you know.”

NMSP: “What? What s***? Like what?” 

Wheeler: “AR-15, less lethal shotgun, vest, flash grenade” … “He just told me that he was hitting cars, you know. He went into this, you know, police officer’s car, tried to open it. It was unlocked.”

Wheeler confirmed some of the stolen items were still in his hotel room but claimed another convicted felon named Aldo Vargas had the police weapons. “Because when he came over, a transaction was, was, made,” Wheeler said. “Between Brandon and Aldo?” the detective asked. Wheeler confirmed, “Yes sir.” He told the detectives Vargas gave Hinds drugs and money in exchange for the AR-15 rifle, bean bag shotgun, and bulletproof vest. Wheeler even provided the detectives with phone numbers and photos of the two. And he agreed to go with State Police for more questioning.

At the State Police office, a detective praised Wheeler for his help, “You did a bad*** thing today, bro. Just freaking keep it up. Like, you’re getting a freaking bad gun 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 let go by State Police that night. APD said they could not hold him on a misdemeanor for shoplifting that day. They needed more time to write a complaint that would include his four other shoplifting incidents at that Home Depot. State Police instructed Wheeler to lay low with his Mom because they were going to search his motel room.

Locating the stolen NMSP gear

Inside Wheeler’s motel room at the Travel Lodge, detectives only located their officer’s pole camera. But they also corroborated Wheeler’s story. Police interviewed Michael Arnold, who is Aldo Vargas’s cousin and Wheeler’s accused shoplifting accomplice. He told them, “Cowboy hit the State — State Police officer’s car.”

Detectives also questioned Arnold’s girlfriend. She confirmed, “Our friend Cowboy brought some stuff over.”

NMSP then turned the focus to Vargas, who they learned was at the Isleta Resort & Casino Hotel. A SWAT team got him into custody and escorted Vargas from his hotel room, where police said he was smoking fentanyl while his toddler slept.

NMSP: “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.”  

Aldo Vargas: “I don’t know what you guys are talking about.” 

NMSP: “So okay, so we’re gonna do that? You wanna go that route?”

The detectives are fed up. “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***,” one of the NMSP detectives told Vargas.

After playing dumb, Vargas admitted he had the State Police officer’s gear. But he said he does not know Cowboy and did not pay him for the items. He claimed his cousin, Michael Arnold, asked him to hold onto the gear for him.

“It’s at my house,” he told the detectives. “It’s in the backyard in my — my white car. There’s a white lowrider in the back. It’s in trash bags.” He was telling the truth. In the trunk of that car, they find everything but the radio and laser pointer. Those are still missing.

Charges issued

Vargas was charged with receiving stolen property and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Two months later, police located and arrested Brandon “Cowboy” Hinds on aggravated burglary for stealing Archuleta’s equipment. But those charges were already dropped because Wheeler – the shoplifter who provided the tip in the first place – refused to testify.

Since helping the police, Wheeler got into more trouble. Police in Arizona arrested him on shoplifting and drug charges in April, and in New Mexico, he was charged with those five shoplifting incidents at Home Depot, plus stealing a utility trailer and more drug charges. 

Hinds has also already faced new criminal charges. He was accused of breaking into another car and possessing burglary tools.

KRQE asked NMSP if Officer Archuleta was disciplined for leaving his guns in his unlocked car. The Agency said it does not share internal affairs investigations or information on discipline.