Newly elected Santa Fe County magistrate arrested on DWI charge

Newly elected Santa Fe County magistrate arrested on DWI charge

February 26— Police arrested Santa Fe County Magistrate Dev Atma Khalsa early Sunday on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated and driving with an expired license.

According to a police report, Santa Fe police responded to a single-vehicle rollover accident on Interstate 25 northbound at the St. Francis Drive exit.

“Upon arrival, officers found Mr. Khalsa standing outside his vehicle,” Santa Fe Deputy Chief Matthew Champlin wrote in an email late Sunday night.

The vehicle – described as a silver Toyota 4Runner – appears to have left the road and came to rest on its driver’s side in a ditch.

“Officers first spoke with Mr. Khalsa at the scene before medical personnel transported him to the hospital for evaluation,” Champlin wrote. “The investigating officer reported that Mr. Khalsa had an odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath and had noticeably slurred speech. Mr. Khalsa was also found to have an expired driving license dated February 24, 2023. Once at the hospital, the same was observed … adding bloodshot watery eyes. .”

“I don’t have anything to drink,” Khalsa told an officer, according to a criminal complaint. While at the hospital, Khalsa became uncooperative and refused medical evaluation, the complaint said.

“Mr. Khalsa was read the New Mexico Implied Consent Act and asked to submit to a blood test; however, he refused,” Champlin wrote. “Under New Mexico state law, refusal to submit to a chemical test elevates the criminal charge to a “passing” charge.

Champlain said in a follow-up phone conversation that the charge could be downgraded to a “simple DWI” because it was unclear whether the officer asked for a breath sample before asking Khalsa — at the hospital — to draw Khalsa’s blood. Under state law, police cannot seek a search warrant for a suspect’s blood unless the arrest is related to a “fourth or subsequent” DWI charge, Champlain said.

Khalsa does not appear to have any other DWI charges on his record, Champlin said, making Sunday’s charge his first.

Khalsa — who began his first term as a Santa Fe County magistrate just a few months ago — was booked around 5:24 a.m. and released Sunday after 3 p.m., according to the Santa Fe County Jail website.

It is not clear which judge approved Khalsa’s release on Sunday.

A jail booking photo shows Khalsa – a Sikh who often wears a turban – dressed in a khaki jumpsuit without headwear.

Khalsa did not respond to a voicemail message seeking comment for this story.

Champlin said he was not sure whether department officials recognized Khalsa or knew if he was a magistrate, but the supervising sergeant appeared to be aware of Khalsa’s location when Champlin was briefed in response to an investigation by The New Mexican.

Khalsa defeated three challengers to win the Democratic primary for his position in June and was elected unopposed in the November general election. He worked as a prosecutor in the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office before becoming a magistrate.

Khalsa told The New Mexican during the campaign that he was born and raised in Virginia and can trace his roots “back to the second boat.” He described himself as an “angry young man” but said that changed after being hit by a car in college and suffering a serious back injury, which led him to seek healing through Kundalini yoga.

Khalsa said he came to New Mexico in 2005 to train in the Sikh community outside Española. This prompted him to make some life changes and he returned to New Mexico to attend St. John’s College.

After graduating, he said, he spent time in various places across the United States and “wanted to move around more,” but kept returning to New Mexico and decided to attend law school here.

While campaigning, Khalsa confirmed that he was accused of vandalism in 1998 while an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

He initially refused to reveal the accusation, saying it was “embarrassing and irrelevant”, but later said he accepted the blame after he and others set fire to a chair as a prank.

His time in prison would temper any instinct to incarcerate someone recklessly, he said in a 2022 interview.

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