AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man was arrested last week related to the disappearance of a 34-year-old man who is now presumed to be dead.
Justin Haden, 34, was last seen on Nov. 1 at The Domain in north Austin. He was reported missing on Nov. 7.
Gavin Roberts, 26, was arrested on Nov. 23 in Colorado and faces a tampering with a corpse charge in the case, according to U.S. Marshals.
Roberts was also charged by the Austin Police Department with murder Dec. 13.
U.S. Marshals said after investigating, the Austin Police Department asked for help from the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force in finding Roberts, who had fled the Austin area.
The task force did its own investigation and found Roberts had gone to Thornton, Colorado. That’s just north of Denver. Information was sent to a U.S. Marshals task force in Colorado so it could help with the search.
The Colorado task force found Roberts in Thornton, outside a home in the 9500 block of Pecos Street, U.S. Marshals said. He was arrested and taken to the Denver Detention Center.
Jail records show that he was booked into the Travis County Jail Dec. 13.
A search warrant revealed that surveillance footage and cellphone records showed Roberts was with Haden the day he went missing. Haden’s now presumed dead after a search of his apartment, according to the document.
Search warrant details
On Nov. 4, the Austin Police Department was called to do a welfare check on Haden since neither his lawyer nor his family had heard from him in three days. Once in the apartment, APD noted “red wine stains” on the wall next to a bed, the search warrant stated.
A few days later, Haden’s father hired a private investigator to help find his son.
The investigator went to the apartment and saw the stains on the wall, but suspected they could be blood, according to the search warrant. The investigator pulled back the sheets on the bed and found a large area of reddish-brown stains on the mattress that ran down the side of the bed onto the floor.
The investigator reported the finding to APD and suggested a violent crime occurred in the apartment. APD went back to the apartment to get more evidence, and the substance on the bed tested positive as human blood, according to the warrant.
According to the search warrant, video surveillance showed Roberts leaving Haden’s apartment the afternoon of Nov. 1 carrying two large white trash bags in one hand and what appeared to be a cardboard box and crushed brown paper in the other hand. He was seen again leaving Haden’s apartment, this time dragging a large blue plastic tote bin with what appeared to be a large black duffle bag on top of it. Roberts appeared to struggle to drag the tote and bag.
About an hour later, video surveillance showed a sedan with no rear bumper driving in the apartment complex’s parking garage, with the trunk propped open. A large blue plastic tote was holding the trunk open. It appeared to be the same size, shape, and color of the tote Roberts drug out of Haden’s apartment.
Investigators identified the last people Haden was in contact with, and that Roberts is the registered owner of the sedan.
Surveillance video showed Roberts and his vehicle at a McDonald’s in Jarrell on the evening of Nov. 1, with the tote still holding the trunk open.
On Nov. 10, the vehicle was captured by surveillance in the Highland Lanes parking lot on Burnet Road in Austin, with the trunk shut.
What officers can and can’t do during welfare checks
The original affidavit for this case stated during the welfare check at Haden’s apartment, they did not find anyone there, noted red wine stains on the wall, secured the apartment and left.
We asked APD about that welfare check and got the following response.
On November 1, 2022, Austin Police Department (APD) officers received a check welfare call to the 3000 block of Esperanza Crossing. We are aware of the incident and the allegations made regarding the police response. We are looking into this at this time.APD Public Information Office
Kevin Lawrence, the executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, said officers are limited in what they can do during welfare checks so as not to violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
“When you’re called for a welfare concern, you’re going to do a welfare check on an individual. You’ve been invited to check on that person,” he said. “If you’re doing a welfare check, and you see something that looks suspicious, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have probable cause now to conduct a search or a seizure.”
He said if an officer pulled the sheets down, as the private investigator did, that could violate the Fourth Amendment, depending on the circumstances, since those officers were performing a welfare check and did not have a warrant.
“Before you conduct any additional investigation, just seeing the spots on the wall, probably does not rise to the level of probable cause or give you an exception to the search warrant requirement,” said Lawrence. “You’re going to need more than that.”