- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A northern New Mexico sheriff indicted for roughing up a motorist during an off-duty traffic stop in March wants a judge to disqualify a federal prosecutor from the lawman’s civil rights case.

In a motion filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, a lawyer for Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella said U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez has a personal vendetta against his client and previously threatened him over a dispute with U.S. Forest Service.

The motion says Martinez and his assistants have conflicts of interest because Rodella’s lawyers plan to question Martinez.

“The testimony of U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez will be relevant to show that this prosecution was motivated by personal animus on the part of U.S. Attorney Martinez and that he made good on a threat to have Mr. Rodella arrested following a law enforcement meeting,” defense lawyer Robert Gorence wrote in the motion.

Gorence said the sheriff and Martinez have been in a long disagreement over U.S. Forest Service agents allegedly harassing Hispanic ranchers and other residents in the northern New Mexico county.

A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman says prosecutors will respond in court.

Rodella was indicted last month for conspiracy to violate a motorist’s civil rights during the March encounter.

According to the indictment, Rodella and his son engaged “in a high-speed pursuit and unreasonable seizure” of the driver, identified in the court papers only as M.T. The sheriff wasn’t in uniform when he chased down the motorist, jumped out of his personal SUV with a gun and shoved his badge in the motorist’s face, court papers said.

The case against Rodella has led to calls for him to resign.

Rodella has responded by asking state police to investigate various allegations of corruption by county officials.

FBI agents raided Rodella’s home in June just hours after he lost the Democratic nomination for Rio Arriba County sheriff to challenger James Lujan by 200 votes. Lujan was a deputy Rodella had fired.


Follow Russell Contreras at https://twitter.com/russcontreras .

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