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Judge rules against Rodella’s release

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A U.S. district judge in Albuquerque on Friday shot down the latest bid by ex-Sheriff Tommy Rodella to win release from federal prison for roughing up a motorist after a road rage incident in which he brandished a gun.

Former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella leaves the federal courthouse in Albuquerque after an August 2014 hearing. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

U.S. District Judge James Browning ruled that a new U.S. Supreme Court decision related to firearms and crimes of violence doesn’t apply to Rodella’s criminal sentence. The former Rio Arriba County sheriff was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a clause in the federal sentencing law as “unconstitutionally vague.” The high court applied its decision retroactively, leading to predictions of the early release of federal inmates sentenced in some violent crimes.

But Browning, in announcing a 49-page decision, determined Rodella was sentenced under a different clause in the law that wasn’t invalidated.

Browning said he realized Rodella would have been immediately released from prison had he ruled otherwise, and added “at least I’m trying to move it along in a timely manner” should the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals find his ruling is “wrong.”

Rodella’s attorney, Susan J. Clouthier of Houston, asked the judge for paperwork to be drawn up to permit such an appeal. But she told the Journal after Friday’s hearing that “we haven’t fully decided whether to appeal.”

After a four-day jury trial in 2015, Rodella received three years and a month for violating the civil rights of a 26-year-old motorist he accosted on a county road near Española in 2014. He also was sentenced to an additional seven years for brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. He is incarcerated in Texas.

The jury found Rodella guilty of acting under color of law in violating the rights of Michael Tafoya of Española.

Rodella was in plainclothes and traveling with his son in his personal SUV when he began to tailgate and pursue Tafoya’s car while both were in traffic, authorities alleged.

Tafoya came to a stop after hitting a pole at the end of a private driveway and testified at trial that he didn’t know Rodella was a law enforcement officer.

Authorities say Rodella jumped out of his personal SUV with a gun while Rodella’s son pulled Tafoya from his car. Rodella is alleged to have cursed at Tafoya and shoved his law enforcement badge in Tafoya’s face.

Tafoya, who testified he feared for his life, was arrested. The criminal charges were later dropped.

At the trial, three other motorists in addition to Tafoya testified to aggressive or threatening behavior by Rodella at traffic stops.

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