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Perjury case against Taos sheriff’s sergeant ends in mistrial

December 3, 2018 GMT

TAOS — A Taos County jury could not reach a decision this week on whether a sheriff’s sergeant lied under oath at a New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division hearing in 2017.

A state District Court judge declared a mistrial Tuesday after the jury split 5-7, with the majority determining there was insufficient evidence to prove Taos County sheriff’s Sgt. Gilbert Atencio had lied to an MVD hearing officer about having viewed lapel camera video of a traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of a former Taos Pueblo tribal officer on a charge of aggravated DWI.

The hearing was held to determine whether the tribal member should have his driver’s license revoked. Atencio, 54, claimed the tribal member had refused to take a breath-alcohol test during the September 2017 traffic stop. He said he had reviewed video that showed the man refusing the test.

But the video, played during Atencio’s trial, shows that while the driver initially refused to take the test, he later agreed to it.

Instead of taking the driver to be tested, Atencio drove him to the Taos County jail. The sergeant later wrote in a statement of probable cause that the driver had never agreed to take the test.

While under oath at the MVD hearing held later in the year, Atencio affirmed the driver had denied the breath test. He cited his lapel camera video as evidence, telling a hearing officer he had reviewed the footage earlier in the day.

After reviewing recordings of the hearing and video of the traffic stop, the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau determined Atencio’s false account of the incident indicated he could not have viewed the video prior to the hearing. The agency charged him with one count of perjury.

During Atencio’s trial, prosecutor Dustin O’Brien told the jury it would have been impossible for him to have viewed the video prior to the hearing, based on the errors in his account of the incident.

Taking the witness stand Tuesday, Atencio said he hadn’t watched the video in full but had skipped to the part where the driver first refused the test and then stopped watching.

“I made a mistake,” he said.

His attorney, Paul Sanchez, said the state had failed to prove his client deliberately misled the hearing officer.

A member of the Taos County Sheriff’s Office since 2015 and with over 17 years in law enforcement, Atencio had never before been charged with perjury, according to court records.

Outside the courtroom, O’Brien said he was unsure if he would retry the case.

“When it’s split like this, it’s going to take some thought and analysis by our office before we make a decision,” he said.