NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – He was pulling drivers over for months and he was the one breaking the law. Just a few months into Jason Gage’s new job with the City of Santa Rosa, driving his patrol car was actually illegal. The police officer continued to get behind the wheel though, violating a law he was tasked with enforcing.  

“Well my reaction as the Chief, it was a surprise to me,” Chief Ernesto Pacheco said. He explained that surprise came when he was working to confirm his officers were in compliance ahead of their annual training. He discovered Gage did not have a valid driver’s license. “The thing about it is, we did take an oath as police officers and we’re held to a higher standard,” the Chief said. “And, it was tremendous to us that this happened with one of my officers.”

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Records from Gage’s personnel file show his driver’s license was suspended in May 2021. It would take nine months for Chief Pacheco to find out, until February 2022. 

“It may have been in reference to his child support and a reinstatement fee that was not paid,” the Chief explained. Court records show Gage has three children. Two with his now ex-wife and the third outside of his marriage. The record shows he owed that mother thousands and demanded a paternity test to prove he was the child’s father. 

“Right now, just under 60% of our cases are making regular child support payments, what we call current support,” said Betina McCracken, the interim Director for New Mexico’s Child Support Enforcement Division. 

She can’t comment on individual cases; but McCracken explained, as outlined in the State’s Parental Responsibility Act, if someone is 30-days delinquent, they’re at risk of losing their license. “And those are not just driver’s licenses, but they’re occupational professional recreational licenses,” she said. 

There are 63 different types of licenses. McCracken said CSED notifies the licensing agency and that agency takes action. But she said the non-payer is warned. A letter arrives in the mail 30 days before the suspension and a text message follows a few weeks later. “So we just try to work with them as best we can to try to avoid that in the first place. Because once it does get suspended, then that gets a little bit more difficult,” McCracken shared. 

Gage contested he received any sort of notice. He wrote to his Chief, “Child support sent no notices of them suspending my license nor did they have any notes of wanting to suspend. I spoke to child support and they sent compliance notice and I was able to get my license valid immediately.” 

Santa Rosa disciplined Gage with a 15-day paid suspension “for failure to meet job requirements.” He’s already back patrolling the community full time. 

“He came in compliance with the MVD, made the corrections and he does have his license back,” Chief Pacheco explained. 

Any other New Mexican driving without a valid license would face a misdemeanor, which comes with a hefty fine or jail time. So why was Officer Gage only penalized with a paid suspension?

“The thing about it at the criminal charge – that’s something that could happen, but our concern right away was the court cases that are pending within that time frame,” the Chief answered. 

Gage stopped 29 drivers in those nine months, but only issued four citations. From May 2021 to February 2022, Chief Pacheco said Gage only handled two criminal cases. He is working with the DA’s Office to figure out if those will be compromised. The DA said Gage is the victim in one of those cases. It’s not clear yet what will happen with the second. 

“There’s a bit of frustration, the Chief said. “Me, I’ll take full accountability for what my officers do. Corrective actions have taken place to reassure the community here in Santa Rosa and I don’t know what else we could say.”

The Chief added he’s keeping Gage on the force because he still trusts his officer and hopes the community will too. 

“Whether it’s an honest mistake that he did, he had to take corrective action with it,” the Chief said. “He was able to get it back and we’ll move forward from here.” An honest mistake, that’s what the Chief believes this was. 

Moving forward, Chief Pacheco said he’ll be checking officers’ licenses more frequently. The Chief claims he notified the state about Gage’s troubles to see if he’d face any punishment from the board that oversees law enforcement. The state says it never received anything. 

KRQE just learned Pacheco is no longer with the Santa Rosa Police Department, as of this week. Administrators will not explain why, citing personnel matters cannot be disclosed.

Right before this story aired, Jason Gage reached out claiming the license suspension was the state’s mistake after he switched jobs. But, he could not provide any documentation to prove that.