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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

Friday, September 26, 2014

Federal Jury Finds Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas R. Rodella Guilty on Criminal Civil Rights and Firearms Charges

ALBUQUERQUE – A federal jury sitting in Albuquerque, N.M., returned a verdict earlier today finding Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas R. Rodella guilty on criminal civil rights and firearms charges after a five-day trial.  The jury’s verdict was announced by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez and Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division.

Sheriff Rodella, 52, of Española, N.M., was charged in a two-count indictment arising out of a March 11, 2014 incident occurring in Rio Arriba County, N.M., during which he engaged in the high-speed pursuit and unreasonable seizure of a victim identified as “M.T.”  Count 1 of the Indictment charged Sheriff Rodella with violating the victim’s civil rights by subjecting him to an unreasonable seizure while acting under color of law.  Count 2 charged the Sheriff with brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Trial of this case began on Sept. 22, 2014, and concluded this afternoon when the jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts of the indictment.  The trial evidence established that on March 11, 2014, Sheriff Rodella and his son Thomas Rodella, Jr., who were in the Sheriff’s personal vehicle, engaged in a high-speed pursuit of the victim and used the Sheriff’s vehicle to block the victim’s vehicle on a dead-end lane.  The victim testified that Sheriff 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.  The Sheriff’s son dragged the victim out of his vehicle and identified the victim’s assailant as the Sheriff.  When the victim requested to see Sheriff Rodella’s badge, the Sheriff pulled the victim’s head up by his hair and slammed his badge into the victim’s face.  The victim testified that he suffered injuries to his face and his hand. 

The evidence also established that Sheriff Rodella instructed his deputies to arrest the victim and detain him at the Rio Arriba County Detention Center.  The victim testified that he was released from custody two days later after appearing before a state magistrate.  The charges against the victim 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 vast majority of law enforcement officers work courageously every day to make our communities safe.  Because officers who serve with honor and integrity deserve our respect and support, it is vitally important to prosecute those who violate their oaths of office and the public trust placed in them,” said U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez.  “Today a federal jury found that in attacking an innocent civilian, Sheriff Rodella chose to abuse his power rather than uphold his oath to protect the public.  I commend the victim who testified in this case for having the courage to step forward and assert his civil rights, and for trusting the Department of Justice to protect him.  I am hopeful that today’s verdict brings a measure of justice to the victim and the people of Rio Arriba County.”

“It’s a sad day whenever a law enforcement official is found guilty of abusing his position, especially when he is the elected head of his agency and should set the example,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee.  “The FBI takes no joy in today’s verdict.  We hope it sends a message to public servants everywhere:  the FBI will make sure you are held accountable if you violate the trust your fellow Americans place in you.  I want to thank the FBI Special Agents and support staff for their hard work during this investigation, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their assistance in this case.”

Sheriff Rodella was remanded into custody after the jury returned its verdict and he will remain detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.  At sentencing, Sheriff Rodella faces a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison on the criminal civil rights charge.  On the firearms charge, Rodella faces a mandatory seven years in prison to be served consecutive to any sentence imposed on the other charges.

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

Updated January 26, 2015