- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - In a fast-moving trial just a month after an indictment, federal prosecutors rested their case Wednesday against a northern New Mexico sheriff accused roughing up a motorist during a traffic stop.

Prosecutors called their final witnesses in the trial involving Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella, who authorities say injured a 26-year-old motorist in a road-rage fit that took place on March 11.

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

His lawyers, however, say that Rodella did nothing wrong and it was the motorist who was driving recklessly and nearly struck the lawman with his car.

During three days of testimony, prosecutors tried to portray the March traffic stop as a bizarre encounter when Rodella abused his power as a law enforcement officer.

Several Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputies testified that it was unusual for a law enforcement officer, in his private vehicle, to pursue another car to stop it.

Lt. Randy Sanches, one of the first deputies on scene to provide backup, said the episode “did stand out,” and it seemed awkward. It’s out of the ordinary for an officer to be involved in a high-speed pursuit in a private vehicle driven by a civilian, he said.

Michael Tafoya, the motorist in the case, later filed reports with the State Police and the FBI, which arrested Rodella in August after federal agents raided his home.

Defense attorneys said they plan on calling in experts to prove Rodella did not hurt Tafoya, as prosecutors claim.


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