Updated Jan. 12 at 5:50 p.m.
The 11th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is investigating whether a Taos County Sheriff’s sergeant lied about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a former Taos Pueblo police officer.
Sgt. Gilbert Atencio of the Taos County Sheriff’s Office has been referred to the office regarding an allegation of perjury stemming from a September traffic stop of Patrick Winters, who was also a 2017 Taos Pueblo War Chief staff member.
According to court records, a motion to dismiss the charges filed against Winters was filed and accepted in November in Taos Magistrate Court.
Efforts to reach Winters by phone and Tribal Police Chief Gary Lefthand by both phone and email were unsuccessful as of press time Wednesday (Jan. 10).
According to a statement of probable cause filed Sept. 5, Atencio stopped Winters for speeding along State Road 68 near mile marker 43 around 2:30 a.m. Sept. 2.
Atencio wrote in the statement that Winters spoke with a slur, smelled of alcohol and that Winters’ eyes were watery and bloodshot. Atencio also noticed an orange substance in Winters’ mouth, according to the statement. Asked for insurance and registration, Winters said that he could produce neither. Atencio also wrote that the vehicle belonged to a passenger who was riding alongside Winters.
Winters agreed to step out of the vehicle to perform three field sobriety tests, which are standard for traffic stops where drunk driving is suspected.
According to Atencio, Winters failed all three.
After being placed under arrest, Atencio wrote that he read Winters the New Mexico Implied Consent advisory, informing him of the requirement to submit to a breath or blood test when arrested for driving under the influence in New Mexico.
According to Atencio, Winters “refused to submit to a chemical sample of his breath,” and was subsequently charged with two counts, including speeding and aggravated driving under the influence of liquor or drugs. The latter charge was enhanced due to Atencio’s allegation that Winters had refused the required chemical testing. Atencio noted the allegation a second time under “facts for consideration of bond” in the statement.
According to a letter from the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, however, Atencio’s allegation that Winters had refused is not supported by footage captured by a body camera the deputy wore during the arrest.
As of press time Wednesday (Jan. 10), charges had not yet been filed against Atencio pertaining to the perjury investigation – the second to open against a sergeant at the Taos County Sheriff’s Office in the last five years.
In March, Sgt. Ricky M. Romero, who ran for sheriff in 2014, was charged with one count of Medicaid fraud, 10 counts of perjury and 10 counts of falsification of documents, crimes Romero allegedly committed between April 2012 and September 2013. Romero was placed on paid administrative leave after the charges came down. He is tentatively scheduled to appear for trial on April 16 in Taos District Court.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe has declined to comment on either investigation, citing both as internal “personnel matters.”
American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Communications Director Miles Conway contacted The Taos News Wednesday afternoon to defend Atencio, one of roughly 10,000 municipal workers for whom the union advocates.
“We have full faith and trust in Sgt. Atencio,” Conway said. “He has a 17-year unblemished record, with 14 years in New Mexico. He’s never done anything to dishonor the badge.”