New Mexico sheriff hit with new indictment

AP News
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Posted: Sep 10, 2014 7:16 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A northern New Mexico sheriff is facing a new federal indictment connected to an off-duty traffic stop that authorities say left a motorist injured, according to court papers made public Wednesday.

The indictment by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque filed Tuesday accuses Rio County Sheriff Thomas Rodella of deprivation of rights and brandishing a firearm. In documents filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, prosecutors say Rodella assaulted a driver identified as M.T., used unreasonable force and caused his unlawful arrest.

The new filing nullifies the previous indictment.

Rodella was indicted last month on conspiracy to violate a motorist's civil rights, falsifying arrest documents and for an unreasonable seizure during the March encounter.

That indictment said Rodella and his son engaged in a high-speed pursuit and unreasonable seizure of the driver. The sheriff was not in uniform when he chased the motorist, jumped out of his personal SUV with a gun, and shoved his badge in the motorist's face, court papers said. The driver was dragged from his car and thrown into the dirt, according to the papers.

Rodella has pleaded not guilty. The indictment against his son was withdrawn over concerns of his cognitive ability, prosecutors said.

The case against Rodella has led to calls for him to resign, but he remains in office.

Robert Gorence, Rodella's attorney, said the new indictment shows the federal case against his client is "half-baked, half-cocked and now half-dismissed."

Gorence said he was confident of a jury acquittal "once the truth is presented."

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors also filed papers in court that alleged Rodella made an earlier questionable traffic stop, in what they call a pattern.

U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said Rodella unlawfully stopped 40-year-old Jacob Ledesma in March 2013.

The documents state that Rodella, who was in plain clothes, pulled over Ledesma while in an unmarked SUV after the driver passed him. Rodella angrily threw his badge at the Las Cruces resident when he didn't know he was the county sheriff, prosecutors said.

Rodella then summoned a deputy, who arrived in a marked unit and wrote Ledesma tickets for passing in a no-passing zone and failing to sign his registration, prosecutors said. "When Ledesma protested to the deputy, the deputy replied, 'He's my boss'," court papers said.

The ticket was later dismissed, authorities said.

Gorence said the ticket was dismissed only after Ledesma pleaded no contest. "This is a total fabrication to the court," Gorence said.

Two months before that March stop, prosecutors said Rodella tailgated a 52-year-old female driver without his emergency lights on and later threatened to arrest her, according to court documents. Gorence said the evidence in that case was "highly prejudicial and should be excluded."

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

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