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Editorial: Latest issues tip the scale; Rodella should step aside

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Tommy Rodella’s long career in public life has taken many twists and turns and ups and downs.

Now, the Rio Arriba County sheriff is in serious trouble, even as he’s on the way out the door of the sheriff’s office after losing his re-election bid in the June Democratic primary.

This time, it’s not merely a squabble among warring factions in Rio Arriba. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are behind his indictments on felony federal civil rights violations for allegedly roughing up a 26-year-old EspaƱola man after a vehicle pursuit in March and making false statements in reports about the incident.

Rodella resigned once before when he was under fire. In 2005, former Gov. Bill Richardson appointed him a magistrate judge. He stepped down after controversy erupted over his role in the release from jail of an acquaintance charged with DWI.

Rodella won back the judgeship in the 2006 election, with 24 percent of the vote in a crowded field, only to be removed from office by the state Supreme Court in 2008 for assorted misdeeds.

This time, Rodella and his lawyers have made it clear he won’t leave the sheriff’s position he won in 2010, with about 25 percent of the vote in another multi-candidate race, and a term through Dec. 31. They contend the federal charges were trumped up as part of a dispute over whether the U.S. Forest Service can enforce state criminal laws in Rio Arriba County.

When Rodella was arraigned Aug. 15, he showed up at court with a group wearing black shirts emblazoned with the phrase: “When Injustice Becomes Law Rebellion Becomes Unity.”

Some of his followers wonder how he got charged by the feds for an alleged road-rage incident said to have included using a gun threateningly and shoving his badge into someone’s face, while other New Mexico police officers whose questionable fatal shootings, recorded on video, have escaped prosecution by the U.S. Attorney.

Not unexpectedly, the case has spun out in strange ways in Rio Arriba. The County Commission says Rodella’s undersheriff threatened county officials with a criminal investigation just moments after the commission voted to call for Rodella’s resignation.

Within a few days, the sheriff’s office turned reports over to the State Police that raise questions about whether one of the commissioners, a Rodella critic, and another county employee were cutting their own deals for use of a county community center. Who knows how that investigation will play out, but serving notice of it in the moments after the commission’s anti-Rodella vote was unseemly timing that could only have been interpreted as intimidation.

For now, Rodella has lost his badge and his gun, and his law enforcement certification is suspended.

With all of this, it’s time for Rodella to go.

The people of Rio Arriba County shouldn’t have to live with a law enforcement operation clouded by the latest serious allegations against Rodella, who will get his day in court on the civil rights charges.

But if there was a doubt as to whether he should leave now, the revocation of his law enforcement certification and the new “investigation” revealed immediately after the vote tip the scales.

Enough is enough. And Rio Arriba County has had enough of Tommy Rodella.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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