Sheriff Rodella, son face 10+ years in federal prison for March incident

Posted at: 08/15/2014 6:33 PM
Updated at: 08/15/2014 10:13 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4 and Danielle Todesco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

ALBUQUERQUE -- For the first time in decades, a sitting elected sheriff in New Mexico has been arrested and is facing several federal criminal charges.

Rio Arriba Co. Sheriff Tommy Rodella is accused of abusing his power and assaulting a man who never even committed a crime, but it could be just the beginning of Rodella's legal troubles.

KOB and other law enforcement agencies have received tips for years that Sheriff Rodella might be terrorizing citizens, but none of those charges stuck until now.

Friday's arrest stems from a traffic stop Sheriff Rodella and his son made in March while they weren't in uniform, and allegedly beat a man with a revolver.

This is the first time the FBI has been able to secure a grand jury indictment on the long-time law man.

Sheriff Rodella and his son, Thomas R. Rodella, Jr. were arrested "without incident" Friday morning, according to U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez.

Court documents state that back in March, Rodella and his son were driving their personal car when they approached Michael Tafoya's car and began tailgating him before pulling him over, then motioning for Tafoya to get out of his car and fight.

Tafoya sped away, but got trapped on a dead-end road.

Sheriff Rodella, who wasn't in uniform at the time, exited his Jeep with a revolver in his hand, got into Tafoya's car, and hit him with the gun while Tafoya begged not to be shot, according to documents.

Rodella, Jr. is accused of shoving Tafoya to the ground face first, then slamming his badge into Tafoya's cheek when Tafoya asked for proof they were law enforcement officials.

"You want to see my badge?" Rodella, Jr. allegedly yelled. "Here's my badge [expletive]."

The FBI says it believes Rodella and his son violated Tafoya's civil rights and abused their power.

"No one is above the law regardless of the uniform or badge you wear. Those charged with upholding the law must and will be held accountable. Today's arrest serves notice to those who would abuse their office and violate the public trust," FBI agent Carol Lee told KOB.

Robert Gorence, the attorney for Sheriff Rodella, said Friday after Rodella and his son were released from custody that he will prove the two are innocent.

"There's an eyewitness to the whole thing that directly refutes, a neutral eyewitness that directly refutes every aspect of this indictment.  And it will be kind of curious to see if they even presented that to a grand jury," Gorence said.

Gorence said Sheriff Rodella will finish out his time as the Rio Arriba County Sheriff.  He just can't carry a gun and can't leave the boundaries of Rio Arriba County.  His term is done in January 2015.

Both men are charged with conspiracy against free exercise of civil rights, deprivation of rights and aiding and abetting and falsification of documents. Rodella is also facing a charge of brandishing a firearm.

Rodella and his son each face ten or more years in federal prison if convicted.