[Warning: Potentially Triggering Content]
Nikki Alcaraz has been found. But what happens now? Now police have turned their attention to her boyfriend…
The 33-year-old woman went missing during a road trip with her boyfriend, Steven Tyler Stratton. She was feared to be in danger after she stopped contacting family — immediately following a brutal physical fight with her boyfriend that put many in mind of what happened with Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.
Just outside Moriarty, New Mexico, a small town about 25 miles east of Albuquerque, sheriff’s deputies encountered Alcaraz and Stratton. The two were involved in a domestic dispute that left Nikki with a black eye and multiple bruises all over her body and Stratton with blood “coming from his mouth and nose.” A passing trucker told cops he witnessed the assault, saying he saw Nikki on the ground, with her boyfriend punching and slapping her.
Despite that evidence — and Nikki at first saying she would press charges, the pair eventually both declined to press charges on each other and were sent on their way. You can see how folks saw parallels with the Gabby Petito case…
After that Nikki was supposed to get picked up by a family member but changed her mind and went back to her boyfriend. Then they weren’t heard from for three weeks — and Nikki’s family rightfully became very concerned and eventually reported her missing.
As we reported late Tuesday evening, Alcaraz was thankfully confirmed to be alive after being spotted selling her cell phone at a store kiosk in Redding, California. Cops in northern California soon released a statement deeming her “safe” after the missing persons scare. But there were still more questions than answers regarding Alcaraz’s well-being and the couple’s activities for nearly the entire month of May.
Just as the missing persons case was solved, officers in the nearby city of Eureka, California were doing their own police work on the case. Early on Tuesday morning, Eureka cops came across Alcaraz and Stratton in their black Jeep. The duo had been in the coastal California city — which is about 150 miles northwest of Redding and not far from the Oregon border — since at least Monday night.
They were spotted by a resident who recognized them from news reports and called 911. So officers showed up very early on Tuesday and performed a welfare check on the pair. According to DailyMail.com, Alcaraz insisted she was “fine and did not require any help” from police at that time.
However, police ran a check on Stratton’s priors. They discovered an outstanding warrant from an incident in Tennessee. The warrant was on a “theft-related charge,” per that news outlet. Seeing that law enforcement officers in the southern state wanted the 33-year-old man, the Eureka cops arrested him on scene. Per the outlet, he was “taken into custody without incident” on Tuesday morning due to his “failure to appear in court back in Tennessee” to face the theft charge.
For Alcaraz’s friends, Stratton’s arrest is good news. Nikki’s longtime (and very concerned) pal Amanda Sanders spoke to Banfield late Tuesday night about Steven’s arrest. She told the outlet she was angry he wasn’t charged with something when New Mexico cops interacted with the couple in early May:
“Everyone just so confused… I just felt more angry wondering why they weren’t at least arrested for public intoxication or something. I feel like none of this would even happen if they would have spent the weekend in jail.”
They had a witness and everything. But they let them go. (Not to mention that warrant had already been out on Stratton by then, and the Moriarty cops should have seen it.)
Sanders added that she’s at least relieved it appears things are getting back in order:
“I’m just glad that it had a happy ending at least.”
It isn’t just the family upset with the police inaction. Interestingly, the Moriarty cops involved in the initial domestic violence case weeks ago are also now being looked at by their superiors.
Speaking to local New Mexico news outlet WKRN, Torrance County Sheriff David Frazee said that “generally speaking,” the pair should have been taken into custody at the time in light of the allegations and apparent physical evidence:
“Generally speaking, they should’ve been arrested. That’s my understanding. When I asked the officer about it, he indicated our District Attorney frowned on such arrests. That’s something I’ve got to look into, but it will be investigated. If we made a misstep then we will take action to correct it.”
So, there could be some consequences for the cops involved in that initial interaction who decided not to arrest Stratton either for the domestic violence allegation or for the outstanding warrant in Tennessee.
Clearly, there are several major moving pieces still at play here. The biggest one, of course, is Alcaraz’s well-being. We’re encouraged to see she’s no longer a missing person and has at least been deemed to be safe. But why didn’t she contact her family? Why was she selling her phone? We hope she continues to get whatever she needs during this uncertain time. As for Stratton, we’ll have to wait and see if he’s charged with anything else.
It’s all still a bit unsettling, to say the least…
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, help is available. Consider calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or text START to 88788, or go to https://www.thehotline.org/.