ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – A northern New Mexico sheriff accused of roughing up a driver chased the motorist because he ran a stop sign and was driving like he “was in the Indy 500,” his son testified Thursday.
Thomas Rodella, Jr., told jurors that his father, Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella, identified himself as a lawman twice before arresting Michael Tafoya, 26, during a disputed March traffic stop. He said the pair pursued Tafoya who sped away on a rural road near Espanola.
Authorities say the older Rodella was in plainclothes when he pulled over Tafoya in a fit of road rage, jumped out of his personal SUV with a gun, and shoved his badge in Tafoya’s face.
Rodella is standing trial on federal charges of deprivation of rights and brandishing a firearm. He has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors previously dropped charges against Rodella’s son in the same case, saying he may lack the cognitive ability to form intent. The younger Rodella received a head injury while serving with the New Mexico National Guard in Kosovo.
Under cross-examination, the son said he was taking several psychotropic drugs and has PTSD and memory problems.
Two motorists testified Wednesday that the sheriff had been aggressive with them during traffic stops.
Yvette Maes told jurors that Rodella used expletives and threatened to take her to jail after she flashed her high-beam headlights at his unmarked car. The 52-year-old said she flashed her lights in retaliation for him tailgating on a rural road.
Another motorist, 40-year-old Jacob Ledesma, says Rodella threw his badge at him during a traffic stop. Ledesma said Rodella pulled him over in an unmarked car after the motorist passed him.
Since Rodella’s indictment last month, some elected officials in the rural county have called for his resignation.
Rodella has responded by asking state police to investigate various allegations of corruption by county officials. He said he has no plans to step down.
FBI agents raided Rodella’s home in June just hours after he lost the Democratic nomination for sheriff to challenger James Lujan by 200 votes. Lujan was a deputy Rodella had fired.