By Darrell Todd Maurina
A Tucumcari police officer who pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated said he will retain his police certification and hopes to return to duty next month.
Sgt. Jeff Gonzales, a 12-year veteran of the Tucumcari Police Department, remains on paid administrative leave, according to Police Chief Dennis Townsend.
Gonzales said he was glad the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board did not revoke his police certification at its meeting on Thursday.
“The board met, they agreed on the agreement that me and the (former) director of the academy, Darrell Hart, made a month ago,” Gonzales said. “They basically put me on a year’s probation. In a year I go back and they take the probation off my record.”
Officials at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board did not return several calls to confirm Gonzales’ status and Townsend said he had not yet received written notice of the board’s action. Thursday’s board agenda posted on the state police Web site indicates that Gonzales was one of five officers whose case came before the board, although Gonzales said he did not have to appear before the board and the case was handled by review of written documentation.
According to state rules, any agency employing a certified law enforcement officer who is convicted or pleads guilty or no contest to driving while intoxicated or several other crimes must file a report with the state.
Gonzales pleaded guilty on April 16 to his first offense of driving while intoxicated in connection with an Aug. 17 incident in which he ran a stop sign with his motorcycle. The court assessed $199 in court costs and deferred sentencing for 90 days. Court records indicate he also completed treatment for DWI offenders. According to Gonzales, he can go before the judge 90 days after his guilty plea to have the case dismissed.
Gonzales said going through DWI treatment was helpful and may make him a better police officer.
“This has definitely been an experience, I’ve learned a lot from it,” Gonzales said. “When you deal with people who have drinking problems you understand them a lot better. It gives you an eye-opening view of why they react the way they react.”
Townsend said decisions on when and whether Gonzales could return to work would be made at a higher level.
“When somebody is placed on any kind of leave, all I do is make recommendations to the city manager; he is the only one who has the authority to hire or fire,” Townsend said. “I don’t know what the next steps are going to be if any.”
City Manager Richard Primrose declined comment on Gonzales’ case, saying it is an ongoing personnel matter.
Gonzales said he would like to return to work if the city decides he can do so, but didn’t object to the current paid administrative leave status.
“If they want me to stay home and collect a check I will do that,” Gonzales said.