Former New Mexico sheriff gets 10 years in road rage case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a former New Mexico sheriff to 10 years in prison for abusing a driver in a bizarre, off-duty traffic stop that prosecutors described as a fit of road rage.

Ex-Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella told the judge during the sentencing hearing that he did good deeds during his tenure. But the court also received letters from community members who were critical of Rodella.

Defense attorneys sought to lessen his term over health concerns. But prosecutors argued the former sheriff created a dangerous situation the day he pulled over a motorist.

"I hope this is part of your journey in life," U.S. District Judge James Browning told Rodella. "I hope you use this time."

The sentence, which includes three years of supervised release and a $200,000 fine, left Rodella's family and friends in tears. They consoled each other outside the courthouse and declined to answer reporters' questions.

Rodella was convicted of brandishing a firearm and deprivation of rights following a four-day trial in September.

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

"I said, 'Please, don't kill me,' " Tafoya testified during the trial.

Rodella, who was in plain clothes at the time, said Tafoya was a reckless driver whom he was trying to stop in the interest of public safety.

Defense lawyer Robert Gorence twice tried to win a new trial but was unsuccessful. He has said he plans to appeal the case.