- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

ESPANOLA, N.M. (AP) - A northern New Mexico sheriff ousted from office for refusing to resign after being convicted of abusing a driver during a bizarre traffic stop now wants a new trial.

A lawyer for former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella filed a nine-page motion Friday seeking an evidentiary hearing and asking a judge to order a new trial.

Rodella was found guilty on Sept. 26 of brandishing a firearm and deprivation of rights following a four-day trial.

He faces 17 years in prison over the March encounter in which he is accused of pulling a gun on Michael Tafoya and striking him in the face with his badge because Tafoya cut him off in traffic.

Rodella said Tafoya was a reckless driver that he was trying to stop in the interest of public safety.

Friday’s motion by Rodella’s attorney Robert Gorence said “a new trial is warranted… because it has been discovered after trial that the government’s key witnesses were utterly unworthy of being believed.”

Gorence’s motion also called into question “other evidence corroborating Michael Tafoya’s sequence of events.”

County commissioners voted 3-0 on Oct. 2 to oust Rodella, once one of the state’s most powerful political figures.

James Lujan, a deputy Rodella once fired, was sworn in as the county’s new sheriff and will fill the remainder of Rodella’s term this year.

Lujan defeated Rodella in a June Democratic primary by 200 votes. He faces no challenger in the November general election.

Last year, the FBI searched the sheriff’s office to investigate whether his staff accepted donations to a scholarship fund and then looked the other way on donors’ traffic offenses. Rodella said the program helped students, and he denied any wrongdoing. No charges were ever filed.

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