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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Sentenced to 121 Months in Federal Prison for Criminal Civil Rights and Firearms Conviction

Thomas R. Rodella, 53, the former Rio Arriba County Sheriff, was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge James O. Browning for his conviction on criminal civil rights and firearms charges.  Rodella was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for his deprivation of rights conviction and an additional seven years for brandishing a firearm while committing the civil rights offense, for an aggregate sentence of 121 months of imprisonment.  Rodella will be on supervised release for three years after completing his prison sentence.  Rodella also was ordered to pay a $200,000 fine U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez for the District of New Mexico announced.

“When he attacked a defenseless innocent civilian, Sheriff Rodella chose to abuse his power rather than uphold his oath to protect the public,” U.S. Attorney Martinez said.  “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute officers who cross that line because they discredit the noble service of every other law enforcement officer and weaken the public’s trust in those who are sworn to protect them.  I commend the prosecutors and investigators for their outstanding work on this case.”

“The American people hold their law enforcement officers to high standards, and those standards are even higher for the leaders of public safety agencies,” said Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division.  “Although the FBI realizes the majority of officers perform their duties in an exemplary and even heroic manner, we will not hesitate to investigate those who betray the public's trust.  I want to thank the FBI Special Agents and support staff who worked on this investigation, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a successful prosecution in this case.”

On Sept. 26, 2014, a federal jury found Rodella guilty of the crimes alleged in a two-count superseding indictment.  Both crimes arose out of an incident occurring on March 11, 2014, in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, during which Rodella engaged in an unjustified high-speed pursuit and unreasonable seizure of a victim identified as “M.T.”  Count 1 of the indictment charged Rodella with violating the victim’s civil rights by subjecting him to an unreasonable seizure while acting under color of law.  Count 2 charged him with brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.  Rodella was the sheriff of Rio Arriba County when the jury returned its guilty verdict.  He resigned from his position as sheriff on Sept. 29, 2014.

The trial evidence established that on March 11, 2014, Rodella and his son Thomas Rodella Jr., who were in Rodella’s personal vehicle, engaged in an unjustified high-speed pursuit of the victim and used the vehicle to block the victim’s vehicle on a dead-end lane.  Rodella, who was not in uniform, jumped out of his vehicle with firearm in hand, entered the victim’s vehicle and assaulted the victim with the firearm.  Rodella Jr. dragged the victim out of his vehicle and identified the victim’s assailant as the sheriff.  When the victim requested to see Rodella’s badge, Rodella pulled the victim’s head up by his hair and slammed his badge into the victim’s face.  The victim suffered injuries to his face and his hand as a result of the assault; the injury to the victim’s hand required surgical repair. 

The evidence also established that Rodella instructed his deputies to arrest the victim and detain him at the Rio Arriba County Detention Center.  The victim was released from custody two days later after appearing before a state magistrate and the charges against him were dismissed on March 26, 2014.  Deputies of the Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office testified they did not conduct any investigation of the incident or prepare any reports until after the case was dismissed. 

The case was investigated by the Albuquerque and Santa Fe offices of the FBI and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tara C. Neda and Jeremy Peña.

Updated January 21, 2015