8/18/2014New Mexico Sheriff Busted Over Brutal Road Rage Traffic Stop
Federal grand jury charges Rio Arriba, New Mexico sheriff with civil rights violation over bogus traffic stop.
A road rage incident could put the top law enforcement officer in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico behind bars. Federal prosecutors on Friday charged Sheriff Thomas R. Rodella with civil rights violations, brandishing a firearm and falsifying documents related to a March 11 traffic stop of Michael Tafoya on Highway 399.
According to the federal complaint, Sheriff Rodella and his son, Thomas R. Rodella Jr, were speeding in a personal Jeep Wrangler SUV when they approached Tafoya's white sedan, which was observing the 35 MPH speed limit. Rodella tailgated the sedan, and Tafoya tapped the brakes, infuriating Rodella. Eventually, Tafoya pulled to the side so Rodella could pass.
Instead of passing, Rodella also pulled over, got out of his Jeep and motioned Tafoya to fight. Since Rodella was not in uniform, Tafoya had no idea that he was a law enforcement officer, so he got back in his car and took off at high speed. The younger Rodella got behind the wheel of the jeep and began pursuit, eventually blocking Tafoya into a dead-end private street.
Sheriff Rodella allegedly pulled out a revolver, opened Tafoya's car door and began pistol whipping him as the motorist begged not to be shot. The younger Rodella grabbed Tafoya out of the car and threw him onto the ground.
"Don't you know that is the sheriff?" the younger Rodella asked.
When Tafoya asked to see a badge, Sheriff Rodella slammed it into his face. Deputies were called to the scene, and Tafoya was hauled in to the Rio Arriba County Detention Center and booked, charged with assaulting the Rodellas.
"I was concerned for my life and the lives of others as the driver had made more than one attempt to run me over," Sheriff Rodella wrote in his report.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into the incident and found evidence that Tafoya's version of events was credible.
"As the lead agency for enforcing federal civil rights laws, the FBI wants to make it clear no one is above the law, regardless of what uniform you wear or rank you hold," FBI Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee said in a statement. "Those charged with upholding the law must and will be held accountable."
The Rodellas each face up to twenty years in prison for the falsified document charge and a mandatory minimum of seven years on the weapons charge, if convicted.