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Sheriff and son accused of pistol-whipping New Mexico motorist

By Joseph Kolb

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - FBI agents arrested a New Mexico sheriff and his son on Friday after the lawman allegedly pistol-whipped a motorist following a high-speed car chase, officials said.

Prosecutors say Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella, 56, was not wearing his uniform when he and his 26-year-old son Thomas Jr. confronted the driver on March 11.

According to a federal indictment, the pair tried to get the motorist to fight them before chasing him when he drove off, and eventually dragging him out of his vehicle.

"Rodella assaulted (the victim) with the silver revolver while (the man) continually begged not to be shot," it said.

When the motorist asked to see Rodella's I.D., he "pulled (the victim's) head up from the dirt by his hair, and slammed his badge into (his) right cheek and eye and yelled, 'You want to see my badge? Here's my badge motherf****r!" according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

Rodella and his son are charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights, deprivation of rights, brandishing a firearm, and falsifying police documents. Both men pleaded not guilty Friday.

"This is the first time I have had a case like this since becoming the U.S. Attorney," Damon Martinez, the U.S. Attorney in Albuquerque, told a news conference.

He declined to comment on whether there was any personal history between the elected sheriff and the motorist he allegedly assaulted.

Even by the standards of some small-town lawmen over the years, Rodella has had a particularly colorful and controversial career spanning almost three decades.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that as a state police officer in the 1980s he was disciplined for marijuana use, physical abuse, and improper use of a weapon. And in 1993 he allegedly fired a weapon at a deer decoy set up by state game wardens to catch poachers.

In 2008 the New Mexico Supreme Court fired him from his post as a magistrate court judge in Rio Arriba County for "willful misconduct" after he involved himself in a friend's drunken driving case, and also promised to rule in favor of campaign supporters if they faced any litigation in his court.

(Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)

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