Officer Luke Martinez of Taos Police Department stooped over a backpack Saturday morning (May 13) and removed more than a dozen stolen firearms, ejected their magazines and racked their slides as Detective John Wentz checked them off a list of weapons allegedly taken from SMD Zombie Tactical in Taos little more than 24 hours before.
Martinez led a team of Taos police officers who arrested two suspects accused in connection to a burglary - Brandon Ackaret and his girlfriend, Andrea Lukes - as the pair attempted to flee capture just after midnight May 13.
According to a statement of probable cause, Martinez was engaging in a "selective traffic enforcement program" around 12:30 a.m., when he spotted a dark-colored, older-model sedan traveling northbound. Martinez ran the plates through Taos Central Dispatch and discovered the plates were stolen. The officer turned on his lights, prompting the driver of the vehicle to pull off onto the shoulder of the road.
Approaching the car, Martinez saw a female driver, later identified as Lukes, who sat beside a male passenger.
Lukes first told Martinez that she didn't have a license and gave the officer a name, which proved to be false when he checked. Upon closer inspection of the passenger, Martinez said the man matched a description of a burglar viewed on grainy security camera footage captured at the time of the burglary at the gun shop.
Martinez reapproached the driver-side window and asked Lukes to "step out of the vehicle." Rather than comply, the suspect then allegedly "took a deep breath," put the car in gear and fled northbound at a high rate of speed. Martinez gave chase and was able to close with the vehicle, which again pulled onto the shoulder after losing traction on the roadway.
With his service pistol drawn, Martinez exited his police cruiser and approached the vehicle on foot, shouting at the suspects to show him their hands. When the officer stepped closer, Lukes then allegedly dropped her right hand to her side. Martinez reached in and grabbed her left hand when he noticed she had a small black pistol. The officer grabbed a hold of Lukes, hauled her through the window of the vehicle and cuffed her on the ground.
Meanwhile, supporting officers from Taos Police Department - Officer James Suazo and Sgt. Ron Montez - arrived on the scene and approached the passenger side of the vehicle, removed Ackaret and placed him under arrest.
Martinez cross-checked the serial number on the pistol recovered from Lukes, which allegedly matched one of the many weapons believed to have been stolen from the gun shop early Thursday morning (May 11).
Police obtained a search warrant for the suspects' vehicle and residence, where all but four of 26 stolen weapons were recovered and filed as evidence.
Ackaret and Lukes have been incarcerated in the Taos County Adult Detention Center and were both arraigned in Taos Magistrate Court on Wednesday (May 17).
Ackaret is being held on one count of burglary of a structure, a fourth-degree felony; two counts of larceny of a firearm, a fourth-degree felony; two counts of tampering with evidence, a fourth-degree felony; and possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor. His bond has been set at $50,000, cash only.
Lukes is a known felon. She is being held on charges that include possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon, a fourth-degree felony; receiving stolen property, a fourth-degree felony; aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, a fourth-degree felony; concealing identity, a petty misdemeanor; a second count of receiving stolen property, a petty misdemeanor; use of a fictitious license plate, a felony; and mandatory financial responsibility, a misdemeanor. She is also being held on a $50,000 cash-only bond.
Police believe Ackaret is the individual who allegedly carved a hole in the rear garage door of SMD Zombie Tactical, adjoining Never Winter Car Wash, scaled a ladder over a wall and stole more than a dozen firearms from a gun case.
Once he made entry over the wall and into the store, a security camera caught a portion of the alleged crime, according to Lt. David Maggio, acting police chief at Taos Police Department.
When the store owner was notified that an alarm had been tripped, he arrived on the scene, phoned police and provided the footage for the investigation.
"A tall male can be seen wearing shorts, tennis shoes, a T-shirt and some type of hat," Maggio said, though he added that the video quality was not sharp enough to clearly identify the suspect.
Damage and burn marks were also visible on the rear garage door to the detail shop, leading police to believe the suspect may have used some type of soldering iron to attempt a second burglary.
Taos Police Department, working in conjunction with tracking specialists from the Taos County Sheriff's Office Special Operations Team, discovered footprints and five discarded weapons in a sagebrush field behind the store. Police followed the trail from where the suspect is believed to have fled through the rear of the store, climbed a chain-link fence and departed southbound - on foot - toward Ace Hardware. Police say a second security camera at the hardware store captured additional footage of the still-unconfirmed prowler.
"There were about six to eight officers on the search," Maggio stated in an interview on Friday (May 12).
If unrecovered, the stolen guns would likely have been sold to a black market gun merchant. According to the police report, Ackaret had already lined up such a buyer, whose identity officials are keeping under wraps as they continue their investigation.
According to a report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 70 firearms were reported stolen in 2016 during burglaries that occurred in New Mexico.
Following the arrests and recovery of most of the firearms, Maggio took a moment to commend his officers for the speedy resolution to the missing weapons situation, which, as Maggio also noted, posed "a public risk."
"I'd just like to commend the Taos Police Department for their diligence," Maggio said. "And Officer Luke Martinez - if it wasn't for him paying attention and seeing the obvious on a traffic stop that led to an arrest on a big burglary we had the other day, where a lot of firearms were stolen, these guys could still be out there. You never know what's going to happen on a traffic stop, so I commend my officers for what they did. They did a great job."