ST. GEORGE – A Mohave County probation officer who was shot at a St. George office during an alleged “burglary gone wrong” incident in 2013 is now facing charges that indicate he may have actually shot himself during the incident and falsified his story about a scuffle with a burglar.
Brian Rees Stephens, 43, of Ivins, made his initial appearance in court Tuesday on charges of second-degree felony communications fraud, class A misdemeanor criminal mischief, as well as class B misdemeanor discharge of a firearm and providing false information to law enforcement.
The charges stem from an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 2013, in a building located at 435 E. Tabernacle Street where Mohave County Probation Department maintains an office subleased by Attorney at Law Travis Christiansen’s firm. Stephens’ office was located down the hall from Christiansen’s office.
“From everything, it appeared that somebody had tried to burn down my office, that my office was completely trashed – death threats on the wall – my desk, there’d been gasoline or something poured all over it … ,” Christiansen said. “I mean, for all intents and purposes, until this recent development, I thought that someone was out to get me and had come pretty close to it.”
Christiansen said that, at the time, he thought Stephens had “saved the day” and intercepted a bullet that Christiansen could have been on the receiving end of.
Stephens’ description of what happened during the incident, Christiansen said, was that Stephens “came in and interrupted a burglary, and the guy had shot at him and they struggled for the weapon and, in the struggle for the weapon, the gun went off a second time with the bullet striking (Stephens) in the leg.”
When the gun went off the second time, Stephens told authorities, the alleged burglar – whom he described as a slender man, around 6 feet tall, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants and a white hockey mask – fled the scene on foot.
Stephens reportedly then cleared the rest of the offices in the suite to make sure there wasn’t another burglar and then called 911. Police and medical personnel arrived on scene and Stephens was transported to the hospital for the injuries he received during the ordeal.
“He had basically a gunshot wound to one of his legs in the thigh,” Christiansen said. “ … It was a 45 – it was actually my gun that was used.”
Fearing that he may have been an intended target, Christiansen said, he and his family left town for a few days and spent a significant amount of money on new security measures.
“We went into hiding so to speak,” he said. “Very few people knew where we were and, after a while, we said ‘OK, we’ll come back,’ and we’ve since taken steps as our family to protect ourselves and make the office environment safer.”
In the early stages of the investigation, Christiansen said, law enforcement asked for information about anyone he had met with or dealt with as a client or opposing party in any litigation within the prior six months before the incident that roughly fit the description Stephens had given of the alleged perpetrator.
After taking several months off for medical leave, Christiansen said, Stephens was back working down the hall from him and the two would go to lunch together regularly. The two continued working in the same office suite up until last week when, Christiansen said, Stephens was served with the summons to appear in court on criminal charges related to him possibly making the entire story up.
“… With this recent stuff we’ve learned that, if what I’m being told by County Attorney’s Office and St. George Police Department bears out to what actually happened,” Christiansen said, “that it’s quite a turn of events. Frankly, it’s saddening to us. I mean, I’ve known Brian for a number of years; he’s been in our office – a friend – you know, so it’s really an interesting emotional time.”
Stephens appeared in 5th District Court Tuesday where his attorney Gary Pendleton requested that Judge John Walton reassign the case to a new judge. Walton granted Pendleton’s request and scheduled Stephens’ preliminary hearing for Feb. 16 before Judge Michael Westfall.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Pendleton declined to comment on the case. “I don’t have the discovery,” he said, “I’m not in a position to make a comment on it.”
Stephens hasn’t tried to contact him since being served with the summons, Christiansen said. He added that he still considers Stephens a friend.
“This is heartbreaking to me that, if what they charged him with, if this is what really happened, it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “He’s a good man and I’m just – it’s so surprising to me.”
Christiansen said he’s not fearful of Stephens and that he doesn’t believe Stephens intended to harm him.
“I don’t know that there was any, in looking at it now, I don’t think there was any deliberate intent to hurt me,” he said. “There’s some other things going on that I don’t know about that led to this happening.”
Christiansen said he wouldn’t dare to speculate, that trying to speculate why the incident might have occurred, at this early stage, would be “premature and unwise and unfair.”
When asked if he felt Stephens was guilty or innocent of the charges, Christiansen said it’s too soon to say.
“I really haven’t thought about it, you know, formed an opinion,” he said. “I haven’t seen enough. They’ve told me bits and pieces but I haven’t seen the probable cause statement or any of the police reports or anything like that, so for me to, until I see what they’ve got, it would be hard for me to say.”
“We’re sad about this,” Christiansen said of the ordeal. “I mean, it is heartbreaking. We’re praying for him and his family – my family is – and we hope that this works out for the best and justice is served whatever that ends up being.”
A request for comment from the Mohave County Probation Department about Stephens’ charges was not immediately returned.
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