Twin teen thieves from firearm burglary facing the music, but victim finds the punishment lacking

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The two teen suspects who burglarized the Taking Aim Guns & Ammo shop of four firearms on Feb. 20 are being adjudicated but the owner feels the punishment may not be sufficient enough to discourage them from committing more crimes in the future.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – Twin burglary suspects, Dominic and Damian Maldonado, 18, of Safford, are being adjudicated regarding an early-morning Feb. 20 burglary of the Taking Aim Guns & Ammo store off U.S. Highway 70 (1122 W. Thatcher Blvd.) However, with one twin already having taken a plea that stipulates a probation sentence and defers another count entirely, the owner of the firearms shop feels the burglars may be getting off too easy. 

The burglary involved breaking into the store’s front door and a display glass case – costing roughly $4,000 in damage according to owner Steve Mayes. The suspects stole three 9-MM handguns ($300 each), and an Angstadt Arms model AA-0940 9-MM pistol valued at $1,439. The twins were identified on surveillance cameras in the shop by officers who are well-acquainted with them despite wearing masks, and the four guns stolen from the shop were all eventually taken back by police and placed into evidence storage.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The suspects broke a display case like this one and stole three handguns from it.

In the footage, the twins repeatedly hit the front door’s safety glass nine times with rocks on their initial attack before successfully breaking through with even larger rocks. Damian reportedly kicked the lower portion open and they gained entry. 

The suspects on video then triggered the store’s motion alarm and a person from the adjacent motel had also called the police regarding the noise they made breaking into the shop. Dominic unsuccessfully attempted to kick in a display while Damian grabbed the Angstadt Arms 9-MM semi-automatic firearm on display on the wall, according to their statements to police and surveillance footage. Dominic then used a rock to break the display case and took the three 9-MM semiautomatic handguns. The suspects were inside the store for less than a minute and made their way away from the area by the time officers arrived a few minutes later.

Due in part to the burglary, Mayes said he no longer keeps any firearms on display overnight and places all of the guns in a safe. He also is in the process of beefing up his security with metal bars to discourage future break-ins. It is the first burglary he has had at the shop since he opened in 2016, he said.  

After reviewing the store surveillance, officers canvassed the area and located additional pieces of evidence that led them to the brothers. 

Investigators reviewed surveillance footage from other nearby businesses, residences, and city footage from Firth Park and captured the Maldonados both on their way to the gun store to burgle it and their return home after the theft. Investigators followed surveillance footage leads to discover the twins’ footprints that led all the way back to their residence in the 800 block of W. 10th Street.

Officers were then observing the Maldonados’ residence and on Feb. 21 a subject, later identified as Anthony Smith, was seen leaving the house while apparently adjusting a handgun in the front of his pants. 

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Dominic Maldonado had pleaded guilty to theft and burglary in the first degree and will be sentenced to probation.

When officers attempted to make contact, Smith fled on foot behind the Safford City Annex. With one subject running with a gun and other stolen guns likely in the area, officers initiated a “stay in place” order announced at Safford schools, including Lafe Nelson and Ruth Powell elementary schools, Safford Middle School, and Safford High School. 

Smith was quickly apprehended and the gun he had been in possession of before tossing it was positively identified as one of the weapons stolen the previous day from Taking Aim. He reportedly told investigators that Damian and Dominic had stolen the guns and the other firearms were in their house. Additionally, videos on Smith’s cellphone show himself and both Damian and Dominic Maldonado handling the stolen handguns.  

Officers then detained the occupants of the Maldonados’ residence while awaiting a search warrant. The three additional missing guns were located in the attic above a hallway closet during the search, which also yielded the masks and clothing worn by the suspects in the burglary. 

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Damian Maldonado, 18, is facing a possible prison sentence for his reported actions regarding the Taking Aim Guns & Ammo burglary.

During interrogation, Damian Maldonado allegedly admitted to breaking into the gun shop and stealing the guns with his brother. He then told the investigating officer that he was ready to shoot it out with the police except they had used up all their ammunition earlier. He said he didn’t like doing time so he would have rather shot at the police. The officer clarified with Damian that the only reason they didn’t have a firefight was that he didn’t have any bullets left from shooting the guns and he responded in the affirmative. Damian allegedly said he believed he was going to go to prison because he was now 18 and was already on probation for running from police in Globe. 

After initially denying his involvement in the burglary, Dominic allegedly admitted to breaking into the business and stealing the guns with his brother. Both were then booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility, and they have been in custody since Feb. 21. Dominic allegedly said they had initially planned on burglarizing cars to make money but then decided on stealing the guns and selling them instead.   

While the suspects were quickly apprehended and the stolen firearms seized, Taking Aim owner Steve Mayes is concerned that it appears the twins are getting off lightly. 

“My biggest complaint is they had, I think, a total of five felonies each for the Maldonado brothers and at least one of them is a Class-2, and the plea agreement they offered him probation for three years,” Mayes said. “They had a long juvenile record and I understand that can’t be used in court, but they don’t learn. Even with this long juvenile record, they don’t learn.”

According to court records, Dominic Maldonado was initially charged with four counts: two counts of burglary in the first degree, theft, and criminal damage.

His case is being prosecuted by Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney C. Alan Perkins, and on March 7 a plea agreement was reached with Dominic pleading guilty to theft and burglary in the first degree. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Taking Aim Guns & Ammo owner Steve Mayes said he believes the suspects should go to prison for burglarizing his business.

According to the plea agreement, the defendant will be placed on standard supervised probation for the theft count with all terms left to the court’s discretion. Additionally, sentencing for the burglary count shall be deferred while the defendant is on probation. That means he will have the opportunity to have that charge dropped if he is successful on probation.  

However, should Dominic be unsuccessful in completing his probation, a judge could then sentence him on the burglary count for between a mitigated minimum of 2 years to a maximum of 7 years in prison – or just to more probation. 

Dominic is represented by attorney Daisy Flores and is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, March 28, at 9:30 a.m. 

According to court records, Damian Maldonado has been charged with six total counts: burglary in the first degree, theft, criminal damage, conspiracy, trafficking in stolen property, and possession of a weapon by a prohibited person. 

Damian is represented by attorney Dennis McCarthy and is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on April 18 at 8:30 a.m. His case is also being prosecuted by Perkins. 

“It just makes me feel like he doesn’t want to do his job and as long as he gets a conviction – which a plea agreement is a conviction for him – he doesn’t have to do anything,” Mayes said. “That’s my biggest (complaint) about this whole thing. Probation on five felonies? Come on, if that was me on a drunk driving they’d be throwing me in jail.”

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: While Dominic, right, will be sentenced to probation at least initially, Damian is likely facing a prison term if convicted.

According to the court, Graham County has filed 163 new cases so far this year alone.

Dominic and Damian Maldonado have been incarcerated in jail since their arrest during the adjudication process and will have credit for time served. 

While they both have juvenile records, this is Dominic’s first adult criminal conviction, which is encouraged by the law to have a repercussion of probation. And with the second count depending on how Dominic does on probation, his success moving forward as an adult depends on him with the possibility of prison hanging over him if he fails on probation.

Since Damian is already on probation, he is facing a likely possibility of a prison sentence with either a plea agreement or conviction.  

Since the cases are currently ongoing, the Graham County Attorney’s Office has politely declined to comment specifically.