EPHRATA - Moses Lake Security business owner John Abens pleaded not guilty to allegedly withholding evidence related to the two convenience stores armed robberies last month.
Prosecutors charged Abens, 55, with first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly refusing to give police a disc containing surveillance footage from the Sage and Sand Motel on Pioneer Way in Moses Lake, according to court records.
Moses Lake police obtained information that one of the robbery suspects, Cruz Vasquez, was seen leaving the motel the afternoon of Nov. 11, prior to the second armed robbery at a Moses Lake convenience store, and may have been dressed in the same clothing worn during the two armed robberies.
It was initially reported in a Dec. 16 Columbia Basin Herald story Vasquez and another suspect, Daniel N. Garza, 18, were staying at the motel. Moses Lake Police Capt. Dave Sands later clarified they were not staying there, but Vasquez allegedly frequented the motel lobby to buy drinks from the vending machine. Police believed the Nov. 11 surveillance footage from the hotel would have captured Vasquez near the vending machine.
According to court records, police requested a copy of the surveillance video from the motel owners, who were reportedly out of town for an extended period of time. The owners told police Moses Lake Security would have access to the recording and could recover the video. Abens was later contacted by police and made a copy of the video. He reportedly left a voicemail for one of the detectives to come pick up the disc. Police allegedly attempted to meet with Abens twice on Nov. 19, leaving at least two voicemails, which were never returned. Police tried to contact Abens several other times but did not hear back.
Abens was finally contacted and told police he was heading to Seattle for medical reasons and could provide the disc when he returned.
Abens was contacted Dec. 4 after returning to Moses Lake and allegedly refused to turn the disc over to police, according to court records, hanging up on several officers numerous times.
Abens was later arrested on South Division Street and a search warrant was issued for his Moses Lake home, although he later said the disc broke in his trunk.
In a previous interview with the Columbia Basin Herald, Abens questioned why police did not obtain a search warrant for the motel, where the video could have been recovered in a locked room. Moses Lake police said they were told the video evidence at the motel was deleted and Abens had the only copy left.
Abens was released from jail because of medical concerns at the request of jail medical staff, according to court records. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Trial was set for March 5 in superior court.