Man arrested after illegally stopping cars

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A man who deputies say pulled over drivers on Friday night has been arrested for impersonating a police officer.

Marco Rodriguez-Maldonado, 19, of Los Lunas, is charged with one count of impersonating a police officer, three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of false imprisonment.

Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard said deputies received information that a man driving a late-model, white Chevy Malibu had been making traffic stops in the area of El Cerro Mission Boulevard.

"Several cars had been stopped by somebody driving what looked to be a police car, and had a spot light and emergency lights on top of the windshield," Burkhard said.

When the deputy located and stopped the vehicle near Van Camp and Manzano Expressway, Rodriguez-Maldonado was arrested and taken into custody. The sheriff said there were three juvenile females in the car, two 13 year olds and another 14 years old. Deputies also found a four pack of Dos Equis beer and a police radio.

According to a criminal complaint, Rodriguez-Maldonado told deputies that he and his passengers were on their way home from Walgreens and Smiths, where they purchased snacks and movie.

When asked by the deputy if he had been pulling people over, he denied the claim and immediately asked for his attorney.

The girls, according to the complaint, told deputies that Rodriguez-Maldonado told them he was a police officer, and one of them said that he was "trying to have a relationship with her." Burkhard said it's not clear what type of relationship he had with the minors, and that they were released to their parents after questioning.

According to the victim's statement given to deputies, Rodriguez-Maldonado stopped him and approached his driver's side window and, in Spanish, asked why he was speeding. The victim said he told Rodriguez-Maldonado that he wasn't speeding, to which he replied, "Don't worry about it. I'm not a cop," and then drove off.

The complaint said that while he was being booked into the Valencia County Detention Center, Rodriguez-Maldonado admitted to a deputy he did stop several cars by turning on his emergency lights.

Burkhard said Rodriguez-Maldonado's vehicle has been sealed and towed, and deputies are waiting on a search warrant so they can inspect it.

The sheriff said it's unusual for someone who is not in law enforcement to purchase functioning emergency equipment.

"It's against the law to have this equipment, and most vendors won't sell it to someone who doesn't have a function in law enforcement," Burkhard said. "So we're not sure how he came across this equipment."

Burkhard said he's not sure how long Rodriguez-Maldonado was pulling people over, but suspects it was only that night because there were no complaints before then.

"We don't know what his intention was," Burkhard said. "He didn't try to solicit anything from anyone and there was nothing to indicate that he was going to do harm to anyone. But it's always a bad situation when someone's out there stopping vehicles."

The sheriff said if someone is being stopped and suspects something is not right, to call the dispatch center to ask them if a real officer or deputy is pulling them over.

"State law says you have to pull over to the right and immediately stop," the sheriff said. "Most of the traffic stops that are conducted by our deputies are in fully marked vehicles with a roof-mounted light bar and it's pretty apparent who they are."

Rodriguez-Maldonado bonded out of the county jail on a $50,000 cash or surety bond Saturday.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.