- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Defense lawyers tried Tuesday to cast doubt on a motorist’s account that a northern New Mexico sheriff roughed him during a heated traffic stop.

Under cross examination, attorneys for Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella questioned Michael Tafoya over his claims that the lawman injured him following an alleged road rage chase in March.

Rodella is standing trial for federal charges of deprivation of rights and brandishing a firearm. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tafoya, 26, told jurors he begged for his life as Rodella pulled a gun on him and gave him a bruise under his right eye.

But defense lawyer Robert Gorence questioned Tafoya on why some photos taken after the encounter didn’t show facial injuries. Gorence also pointed out that a jail booking mug of Tafoya taken a few hours after that didn’t show injuries.

“I did not get a bruise on my face until the next day,” Tafoya said.

Tafoya said, with the help of a friend, he wrote a two-page statement about what happened. Tafoya then sent that statement to the FBI, state police and news outlets about two weeks after the incident.

“You went through the effort to write a statement, but you did not take a picture of the alleged black eye,” Gorence said.

An aggravated battery on an officer charge against Tafoya was later dropped.

Federal prosecutors said Rodella was in plainclothes when he pulled over Tafoya, jumped out of his personal SUV “in a fit of road rage” with a gun, and shoved his badge in Tafoya’s face.

Gorence denied the allegations against his client and said the case is largely based on a dispute with U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez over U.S. Forest Service patrols in northern New Mexico.

If convicted on both counts, Rodella faces a maximum of 17 years in prison.

Testimony in the trial is scheduled to continue this week.

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