Albequerque, New Mexico — In Rio County, the Sheriff and his son aren’t the only law in town — at least, not anymore. The Sheriff Tommy Rodella and his son Tommy J. are currently sitting in irons the county pokey, awaiting arraignment of five felony counts resulting from an unlawful stop and subsequent beating on March 11th.
On that day, Rodella was riding in a personal Jeep SUV with his son driving, when Michael Tafoya pulled out in front of them from a side road. According to the two, Tafoya (who reportedly almost caused an accident) was “driving recklessly” at the time. Tafoya disputes this, claiming he didn’t see the SUV.
The incident became an instant road rage trigger for the Sheriff and his boy, who proceeded to pull up behind Tafoya, tailgating him, flashing their headlights and honking the horn. Tafoya pulled over to let them pass, but the pair stopped behind him, got out of their vehicle and stalked toward Tafoya. According to him “they wanted to fight.” at no point did the Sheriff identify himself as police.
Tafoya put his vehicle in gear and took off. Rodella took off after him, chasing Tafoya at high speed while staying glued to his bumper. Fearing for his life, Tafoya turned onto a dirt road to escape them — but the road was a dead-end. At some point he hit a pole at the road’s end. Trapped at the end of the road, Tafoya attempted to turn around, only to find his way blocked by Rodella’s Jeep and Rodella himself charging around the passenger side of the vehicle.
Rodella dove in through the passenger door and put his silver revolver in Tafoya’s face. According to Rodella, he identified himself as Sheriff then. Tafoya says otherwise. Rodella says he pulled his gun because Tafoya “attempted to run him over” after showing his badge. Tafoya says he “pleaded with them not to kill me.”
Distracted by the gun in his face, Tafoya didn’t see Rodella’s son come around to the driver-side door.
“The next thing I know I’m being pulled from the driver’s side, and thrown to the ground face first,” he says.
Tafoya asked who they were, and Junior identified his father as the sheriff. Tafoya asked to see his badge, and Rodella pulled his face out of the dirt, and hit him in the eye with it.
“You want to see my badge? Here’s my motherf***ing badge!”
They arrested Tafoya on charges of resisting arrest and assault on a “peace officer.” (There’s your irony for the day.) The jail “reported no injuries” to Tafoya at the time…because if there’s one thing jails do religiously, it’s record injuries inflicted by high-ranking police officers.
A judge threw the case out two weeks later, and that was the end of Tafoya’s story. But that wasn’t the end of Rodella’s.
Three months later, the FBI raided Rodella’s home, and placed him and his son under arrest. The rap sheet included five counts of violations of civil rights:
- One count Conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights
- One count Unreasonable Seizure
- One count Brandishing a Firearm
- Two Counts of Making False Statements
This isn’t Sheriff Rodella’s first offense.
Rodella and his lawyer think that people are just out to get him, and his lawyer is all but wetting himself at the notion of a federal trial. But why would anybody be out to get Rodella, an honest cop? Turns out, he held a lot of jobs in the New Mexico legal system before taking his current position as “inmate.” And he’s been a bit naughty at all of them.
- In 2006, a year after he’d been appointed as the Rio County Magistrate Judge, he “helped a friend get out of jail following a drunk driving arrest.” In 2008, the New Mexico Supreme Court removed him from office after what it called “willful misconduct” and “abuse of the power of office.” He was barred from the bench, and barred from ever running for that office again.
- As a uniformed police officer, Rodella was regularly and repeatedly disciplined for several offenses, including smoking pot on the job and shooting at a deer decoy set up by a different agency to catch poachers.
- As Sheriff, Rodella and his office were searched by the FBI after a media story exposed his policy of taking bribes in the form of “scholarship funds” in place of prosecuting some traffic violations.
Apparently, though, corruption is something of a family occupation. Rodella’s wife Debbie is a Democratic lawmaker who’s faced a slew of misconduct allegations — most of which stemming from her corroboration with her corrupt husband.
Rodella’s lawyer seems to think it’s an open-and-shut case, and that he’ll walk free of the 10 years he and his son are facing as easily as he’s walked free of everything else. Maybe…then again, maybe not. It appears Rodella is now just another unemployed brown guy in New Mexico. And not because he got arrested.
Yes, it seems there’s a reason that the Hand of Justice waited these precise three months to slap the cuffs on Rodella and Junior:
The arrests came just hours after Rodella was disowned by his wife’s party, and lost his Democratic nomination for re-election.
Featured image and h/t: KRQE.