ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A former New Mexico police officer was arrested in New York last month for trying to get out of a routine traffic stop by posing as a cop.
KRQE News 13 has learned it’s not the first time Justin Romero has been in trouble.
According to New York City police, officers stopped Romero outside of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Romero, 29, was driving his pickup truck without a front license plate.
When talking to officers, he told them, “I’m a police officer,” and flashed a New Mexico State Police badge, trying to pass himself off as a cop.
However, the badge he flashed was a commemorative shield that State Police officers had the opportunity to purchase in 2015.
“I authorized our officers to wear it on their uniform for one year to celebrate our 80th anniversary,” Chief of Police Pete Kassetas said. “They were able to keep those badges as a keepsake.”
It turns out Romero was on the force for less than a year when he was fired back in 2016 from State Police.
That summer Romero was caught on surveillance video pulling into a Santa Fe gas station in his police unit. He wasn’t on shift at the time.Video shows what appears to be Romero filling up his unit with gas. Then, suddenly things took a strange twist.
“There was an individual in a pickup truck, which belonged to the officer, who pulled it up to the same pump and then he gassed up that pickup truck,” Chief Kassetas said. “That doesn’t work for me.”
The department launched an internal affairs investigation after another customer who witnessed the incident made them aware.
“He knows the difference between right and wrong. This was unacceptable,” Chief Kassetas said. “The core of what we do is our integrity and we don’t break the law.”
The $30 charge to a state-issued fuel card ended up costing Romero his job.
“People say, ‘Well, just for a tank of gas?’ Chief Kassetas said. “Well yeah, actually the threshold is zero. Zero theft. You’re stealing from the taxpayers.”
In the New York case, police also found a gun next to the drivers-side door. When officers asked Romero if he had any weapons on him, he told them he had a gun, but that it was “locked, in a box in the back” of the truck.
According to police, he was also not able to provide any form of identification.
Chief Kassetas said he received a call from detectives in New York shortly after the arrest and made it clear Romero was not an officer in New Mexico.
“I appreciate the New York Police Department reaching out to us,” he said. “He (Romero) was impersonating a police officer. He doesn’t have a badge for a reason and I can assure you he wouldn’t be working in New Mexico again.”
Romero was charged with impersonating a police officer and other lesser charges. He’s expected in court in April.