Perjury case against sheriff's sergeant moves on to district court

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A perjury case filed against a Taos County Sheriff's sergeant will move on to Taos District Court for further proceedings.

At a preliminary examination Thursday (June 14) in Taos Magistrate Court, Judge Felix Pena found there to be sufficient probable cause to suggest that Sgt. Gilbert Atencio may have lied at a New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division DWI hearing about viewing lapel cam video of a traffic stop last fall.

Reviewing the footage, investigators determined that Atencio had erroneously charged a former Taos Pueblo tribal police officer with aggravated DWI for refusing to take a breathalyzer test.

The video indicates that the tribal member first refuses to take the test, but later agrees. Instead of taking the driver to be tested, however, Atencio drives him to the Taos County Adult Detention Center to be booked. The sergeant would later write in a statement of probable cause that the driver had refused the test.

A recording of the DWI hearing that followed and led to the perjury charge was played before the court on Thursday. Courtgoers could hear Atencio state on the recording that he had viewed his lapel cam video in preparation for the DWI hearing and reaffirm under oath that the driver of the vehicle had refused to take the test.

Following an investigation this year, the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau charged Atencio on one count.

Taking the witness stand on Thursday, Atencio said that he had, in fact, viewed the lapel video prior to the DWI hearing, but stopped the recording after the driver of the vehicle refuses to take the test, failing to view the crucial moment when that answer changes.

Atencio's defense attorney, Paul V. Sanchez, argued that the purpose of the DWI hearing, as outlined on the recording by a hearing officer, rendered Atencio's viewing or failure to view the video immaterial and the perjury charge illegitimate.

Eleventh Judicial District Attorney Dustin O'Brien countered that while Atencio may have made a mistake during the traffic stop, a question remained as to whether an honest error then snowballed into an outright falsification.

At the end of the hearing, Pena said that any longtime law enforcement officer should know procedure exactly and be held accountable for their actions.

Future court dates in the case have not yet been set.

For more, check back here at taosnews.com and pick up the June 2 edition of The Taos News.

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