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Justice News

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas R. Rodella and his Son Arrested on Federal Charges

ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez and Special Agent Carol K.O. Lee of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division announced Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas R. Rodella and his son, Thomas R. Rodella, Jr., were arrested this morning by the FBI on a federal indictment charging them with civil rights, firearms and falsification of documents charges.

Sheriff Rodella, 52, and Rodella, Jr., 26, both residents of Española, N.M., are charged in a five-count indictment that was filed under seal on Aug. 12, 2014, and unsealed earlier today following their arrests.  The two men made their initial appearances in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., earlier this morning.

The indictment against Sheriff Rodella and Rodella, Jr., arise out of a March 11, 2014 incident occurring in Rio Arriba County, N.M., during which the two men allegedly engaged in the high-speed pursuit and unreasonable seizure of a victim identified as “M.T.”  Count 1 of the Indictment charges Sheriff Rodella and Rodella, Jr., with participating in a conspiracy to violate the victim’s civil rights by subjecting him to an unreasonable seizure while acting under color of law.  Count 2 charges the two men with subjecting the victim to an unreasonable seizure while acting under color of law.  It further alleges that the offense against the victim involved the use of a dangerous weapon and resulted in bodily injury to the victim.  Count 3 charges Sheriff Rodella with brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.  Counts 4 and 5 charge Sheriff Rodella and Rodella, Jr., respectively, with making false statements in law enforcement reports regarding the events giving rise to charges in Counts 1 and 2 of the indictment.

According to the indictment, on March 11, 2014, Sheriff Rodella and Rodella, Jr., who were in the Sheriff’s personal vehicle, allegedly 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.  It alleges 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.  Rodella, Jr., allegedly dragged the victim out of his vehicle and identified the victim’s alleged assailant as the Sheriff.  In response to the victim’s request to see his badge, Sheriff Rodella allegedly pulled the victim’s head up by his hair and slammed his badge into the victim’s face. 

The indictment alleges that Sheriff Rodella instructed his deputies to arrest the victim and detain him at the Rio Arriba County Detention Center, and that the Sheriff and Rodella, Jr., falsely represented to the deputies that the victim had attempted to injure the Sheriff.  According to the indictment, on March 12, 2014, the Sheriff and Rodella, Jr., each made false statements in law enforcement reports regarding the events underlying the victim’s arrest.  Sheriff Rodella allegedly falsely wrote that the victim had driven his vehicle at a high rate of speed and tried to run him over.  Rodella, Jr., allegedly falsely wrote that the victim’s vehicle accelerated towards the Sheriff and almost hit the Sheriff.

“A vast majority of law enforcement officers work courageously every day to make our communities safe,” said U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez.  “Because those in uniform deserve our respect and support, it is vitally important to prosecute officers who violate their oaths of office and the public trust placed in them.  The Department of Justice is committed to holding law enforcement officers accountable when they violate their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.”

“As the lead agency for enforcing federal civil rights laws, the FBI wants to make it clear no one is above the law, regardless of what uniform you wear or rank you hold. Those charged with upholding the law must and will be held accountable,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee.  “Let today’s arrests serve notice to those few out there who would tarnish their badge by violating the public trust:  the FBI will thoroughly investigate each and every allegation, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.  I want to thank the FBI Special Agents and support staff for their work during this investigation, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their assistance in this case.”

If convicted on Counts 1 and 2, the conspiracy and civil rights charges, Sheriff Rodella and Rodella, Jr., each face a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison.  Each man each faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years if convicted on Counts 4 and 5, the falsification of documents charge.  If convicted on Count 3, the firearms charge, Sheriff Rodella faces a mandatory seven years in prison to be served consecutive to any sentence imposed on the other charges.

This case was investigated by the Albuquerque and Santa Fe offices of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara C. Neda.

The charges set forth in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Updated January 26, 2015