RIO ARRIBA COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – News 13 has obtained the New Mexico State Police report that contains clues into why the FBI raided a Sheriff’s home. In the report, a young man describes what sounds like a road rage incident with the off-duty Sheriff, and describes a scary arrest.
The Sheriff insists he did nothing wrong.
Documents state the young man told State Police investigators that when the sheriff and his son chased him and assaulted him, he thought he was going to die.
The case is now the center of a federal investigation. Michael Tafoya, 26, claims he thought two men chasing him in a Jeep back in March, were going to kill him.
Those men, he learned, were off-duty Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella and his son. In an interview with State Police 15 days after the incident, Tafoya told investigators he was driving in Española, when a dark jeep flashed its lights and started tailgating him.
Tafoya said he pulled over to let the Jeep pass, and when he did, Tafoya said he raised his arms and said, “what the hell?” Tafoya said the Jeep’s driver then pulled up and two men got out and approached him.
“They wanted a fight,” Tafoya said, so he drove away, but the Jeep kept after him.
Sheriff Rodella claims Tafoya was driving recklessly, and almost hit their Jeep. Rodella claims he showed Tafoya his badge before Tafoya took off, and called in backup as he and his son chased him.
The chase continued down a rural road. It ended when Tafoya hit a pole.
At that point, Tafoya claims Rodella lunged at him with a gun.
“I pleaded with him not to kill me as he continued to try and shove a silver colored revolver in my face,” Tafoya said.
He said he struggled to keep the gun away, and, “the next thing I know I’m being pulled from the driver’s side, and thrown to the ground face first,” Tafoya said.
He demanded to see a badge, and claims Rodella cursed at him, “you wanna see my badge mother f*****? Here’s my badge,” hitting him in the face with it.
When other officers arrived, Tafoya claims they taunted him. “I felt like I was walking a gauntlet,” said Tafoya.
Rodella claims he clearly presented his badge throughout the encounter, and pulled his gun because Tafoya almost ran him over, and he feared for his safety.
Rodella’s home was raided by the feds roughly three months after the encounter. The state police report doesn’t say what the FBI was looking for in Rodella’s home.
Tafoya was booked on resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a peace officer charges. The District Attorney later dropped the charges.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman told News 13, Tafoya showed no signs of injuries when he was booked into jail, and made no such claims at the time of his arrest. The spokesman also said if state police thought Rodella had done something wrong, they would have charged him.
After the feds raided Rodella’s home, his attorney sent a statement to the media questioning the timing of the search. A Sheriff’s spokesman pointed out that the state police report for Tafoya’s statement wasn’t approved until after the FBI’s search of Rodella’s home.
The federal search warrant was executed the day after Rodella lost the primary election.
When asked why it took him so long to come forward with his assault claim, Tafoya told state police he was scared, and didn’t know what to do at the time.