FBI: Embattled New Mexico sheriff, son arrested

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Associated Press

Posted on August 15, 2014 at 12:04 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A northern New Mexico sheriff who has had brushes with scandal throughout his career was arrested Friday on charges alleging he assaulted a man with a gun following a high-speed chase, according to authorities and court records.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher confirmed Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella and his son, Thomas, Jr., were arrested in their Espanola home but he wouldn't say why.

Federal court documents filed Tuesday, however, say both men were indicted on charges of conspiracy and falsifying records related to the March incident.

The men, the indictment said, engaged "in a high-speed pursuit and unreasonable seizure" of a motorist identified only as M.T. The sheriff was not in uniform when he jumped out of his Jeep SUV armed with a silver revolver, court papers said.

"Rodella assaulted M.T. with a silver revolver while M.T. continually begged not to be shot," the indictment said.

U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez and FBI Special Agent in Charge Carol Lee planned a news conference Friday morning.

A lawyer for Rodella didn't immediately return a phone message and email from The Associated Press.

Rodella, whose wife, Debbie, is a longtime, Democratic state legislator, has a faced a parade of misconduct allegations in his time in law enforcement and politics.

Rodella was elected sheriff in 2010, despite having been ousted as a magistrate judge by the state Supreme Court four years earlier for misconduct. The court barred him from running again for judicial office.

He had been appointed as a magistrate in 2005 by then Gov. Bill Richardson, but resigned a few months later amid criticism — and pressure from Richardson — for helping secure the release of a family friend who had been jailed for drunken driving.

As a state police officer, Rodella was disciplined for marijuana use, improper use of a weapon, falsifying official reports, abusing sick leave and using his position for personal gain. He also was suspended for 30 days for firing at a deer decoy that game officers had set up to catch poachers.

Rodella served in the state police from 1982 until retiring in 1995 on a disability pension.

Last year, the FBI searched the sheriff's office in Espanola after media reports that Rodella's staff was accepting donations for a scholarship fund managed by Rodella, in lieu of prosecuting some traffic offenses.

And in June, FBI agents raided Rodella's home just hours after he lost the Democratic nomination for Rio Arriba County sheriff by coming in second to challenger James Lujan by 200 votes. Lujan was a deputy Rodella had fired.

Rodella's home was raided as authorities investigated the March arrest of 26-year-old Michael Tafoya, a driver Rodella had detained, Rodella's then spokesman Jake Arnold said at the time.

Tafoya was arrested on charges of aggravated assault of a peace officer and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on March 11, but prosecutors dismissed the case two weeks later.

Tafoya, driving a green Mazda, pulled out and almost hit Rodella, who was driving a Jeep with his son as a passenger, according to a court document.

The sheriff then saw the Mazda almost rear-end another vehicle, the document said. Without explaining whether the Mazda driver stopped on his own or Rodella pulled him over, the report said the Rodella "presented his badge" to the Mazda driver and identified himself as sheriff.

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Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .

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