A Fresno County sheriff’s deputy was found not guilty Thursday of hitting his wife inside an Uber car after a night of drinking in Old Town Clovis last summer.
Rudolpho “Rudy” Tafoya III, 28, bowed his head when the verdict was announced in Fresno Superior Court. His attorney, Marshall Hodgkins, took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.
Tafoya’s wife, Kaitlin, and his family cried in the courtroom. Kaitlin Tafoya, 28, had testified in the two-week trial that her husband had not hit her.
Afterward, Hodgkins said it was a sweet ending to a high-stakes trial that could have resulted in Tafoya losing his job as a deputy if he had been convicted. By law, a conviction of domestic violence requires a defendant to lose his right to possess a gun for 10 years.
But the jury of six men and six women took only a few hours to find him not guilty of misdemeanor spousal battery.
I did not hit or touch my wife in an aggressive manner.
Fresno County sheriff’s deputy Rudy Tafoya III
Tafoya and his wife have been married six years after dating since high school. Neither has a criminal record and police have never been to their Clovis home for any reports of domestic violence or other crimes, court records say.
The defendant also comes from a family of law enforcement. His father is Fresno police Sgt. Rudy Tafoya. His uncle is Marcus Tafoya, a former Fresno police officer.
The trial had its hiccups because Hodgkins, while cross-examining a witness, learned that prosecutor Selena Farnesi withheld evidence that Hodgkins said would exonerate Tafoya. The withheld evidence included a tape-recorded interview of the Uber driver, Christina Schmidt, who accused Tafoya of striking his wife.
In a hearing outside the jury’s presence, Farnesi admitted that she withheld evidence, but not willfully. “I made a huge mistake on my part,” she told Judge Arlan Harrell. “I should have handed it over, but I failed to do that. I want to apologize to the defendant and the victim.”
Hodgkins said the withheld evidence showed that Schmidt gave a conflicting account of what happened. He asked Harrell to dismiss the case because of prosecutorial misconduct. Hodgkins also argued that Tafoya’s due process rights were violated. But Harrell declined to dismiss the case, ruling in essence that it was a harmless error since Farnesi had turned over the withheld evidence to Hodgkins and Hodgkins could recall Schmidt to the witness stand.
The incident happened during the early hours of June 17.
A Clovis police report says Schmidt had picked up Tafoya, his wife and a friend outside the Old Town Saloon to take them to McDonald’s at Shaw and Clovis avenues. On the way there, Schmidt said she heard Tafoya cursing his wife and three slaps. Schmidt, however, didn’t see the slaps. She told police she then turned around and saw Tafoya acting aggressively and pinching his wife’s right leg.
Her face was red and she appeared to be distraught.
Clovis police report
Schmidt said Kaitlin Tafoya was crying and looking out the window. “Her face was red and she appeared to be distraught,” the report said. Concerned for the woman’s safety, Schmidt said she drove back to Old Town and contacted police, who arrested Tafoya. He admitted to being drunk, but denied hitting his wife.
The police report says Kaitlin Tafoya told officers her husband said unkind words toward her and about her twin sisters. She also told the officers that her husband grabbed her arm, but did not hit her. Hodgkins said Kaitlin gave the same account on the witness stand. She also clarified that when her husband grabbed her arm, it was not in a mean or harmful way; it was to get her attention.
Farnesi accused Tafoya of slapping his wife on the chest three times. The strikes left red markings on the victim’s chest, the prosecutor said.
But Hodgkins told the jury that Kaitlin, who is fair-skinned, naturally has redness on her chest. While she was on the witness stand, Hodgkins pointed out the redness on Kaitlin’s chest to the jury. He also showed old photos to the jury of Kaitlin with redness on her chest.
I made a huge mistake on my part.
Fresno prosecutor Selena Farnesi
Rudy Tafoya testified: “I have never hit my wife. I have never pushed her in anger.”
Because he was intoxicated, Tafoya told the jury, he can’t remember much that night. He testified that he and his wife, her 21-year-old twin sisters and other friends had gone to Woodward Park for a concert. He said he drank three beers at the concert. They then went to Old Town Saloon.
At the nightclub, Tafoya said, his wife and her sisters began dancing together provocatively. He said he overheard men in the bar talking about his wife and his sisters. He testified he got upset and continued to drink. (The police report said he drank whiskey and cola.)
He testified he was mad because he said bars can be a dangerous place for young women. “There are guys who prey on women and slip something in their drink,” he told the jury. Tafoya testified he was concerned because his wife and her twin sisters were attracting attention.
After he told his wife that he didn’t like the way they were dancing, they left the bar. On the way to McDonald’s, Tafoya testified, he doesn’t remember grabbing his wife’s arm. But he told the jury that if his wife said it happened, it happened.
“She does not lie,” he said. He also denied pinching his wife’s leg. But he was clear about one thing: “I did not hit or touch my wife in an aggressive manner.”