Report: Deputies Justified Shooting Rodney Mitchell
A State's Attorney Office investigation determines that Sarasota County Sheriff's deputies had the right to shoot at Bradenton resident Rodney Mitchell when his Jeep accelerated toward the two deputies.
Investigations from both the State's Attorney Office and the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office determine that deputies were justified and acting within general orders to shoot a 23-year-old Bradenton man at a June traffic stop.
The sheriff's office issued Tuesday its report that Sgt. Troy Sasse and Deputy Adam Shaw exercised "justifiable use of deadly force" when Rodney Mitchell, of the 4900 block 26th St. East, Bradenton, accelerated the Jeep Liberty while Sasse was beside the Jeep.
The June 11 traffic stop started out as what was suppose to be a routine stop for Mitchell not wearing a seatbelt when he was pulled over by Deputy Adam Shaw, but an investigation takes a look at how the situation became complicated in such a short amount of time.
Shaw and Sasse were placed on administrative leave during the investigation, and are now eligible to return to duty.
Mitchell wore his seatbelt, as it turned out, according to the state's attorney report prepared by W. Earl Van, felony division chief for the state's attorney office. However, Mitchell's passenger, Dorian Gilmer, was not, the report states. Gilmer had fled the scene after the Jeep crashed into a Sunoco gas station, according to the report.
Also, initial reports indicated that the deputies fired at the Jeep because the Jeep was accelerating toward them, and shot out of fear for their life. The state attorney report with a witness statement and scientific analysis determined that there is a great likelihood that Mitchell turned the car away from the deputies, but it's not fully conclusive and unable to determine whether the Jeep's rotation was the first move or out of reaction from the first bullet fired, according to the reports.
"The deputies were unaware that Mitchell had turned his steering wheel to the right as he accelerated, thus very narrowly avoiding Sgt. Sasse," the report states. "It is significant and compelling that in the same short period of time both officers made a near simultaneous, near instantaneous, and notably independent decision that Mitchell's acceleration toward Sgt. Sasse presented a mortal threat."
When Shaw attempted to pull over Mitchell, he turned his lights on, but had to activate his siren, according to a witness quoted in the state's attorney report.
When Mitchell pulled over, he told Gilmer, "They['re] not going to pull me, I have on my seat belt; they're not going to pull me," according to the report.
The state's attorney investigation notes that Mitchell was driving on a suspended license for DUI and was issued a driving on a suspended license during a May traffic stop, and had a court appearance a week before the shooting.
The judge told Mitchell that the state would want him to spend 30 days in jail and if he continued to drive on the suspended license, the time would "keep escalating," according to the report.
Shaw told Mitchell to put his hands on the steering wheel and asked for his driver's license, and at that time, Shaw noticed the Jeep was in gear because the Jeep "lurched forward," according to the report.
Mitchell didn't make eye contact with the deputies, failed to comply with the deputies and still had his hands on the gearshift, according to the report. Sasse, who arrived after on patrol nearby, had approached the Jeep and noticed the car backed up, prompting Sasse to draw his gun.
Mitchell put the car in park then suddenly put the car in drive, while Shaw attempted to reach in and put the car in park, according to the state's attorney report.
At that time, both deputies fired two rounds at the Jeep, and one bullet struck Mitchell’s temple and another struck his left hand, according to the report. The Jeep continued to drive south on Washington Boulevard, crossed the median and struck two cars at a Sunoco parking lot before coming to a rest after striking a barrier pole, according to the report.
The passenger believed that given Mitchell's circumstances, he attempted to flee because he didn't want to go to jail.
“I know he didn’t want to go to jail. He had a lot to lose,” Gilmer told investigators, according to the report.
Gilmer didn't believe Sasse was directly in front of the car, but physical evidence, of how the shots were fired, support that Sasse stood in front of the Jeep, according to the report.
Still, evidence shows that Mitchell turned his wheel away from the deputies, but the report determined that Sasse and Shaw had reason to believe they were in “imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.”
Shaw had a history of complaints for traffic stop, including being placed on a 90-day improvement plan for “using poor judgment when pulling people over,” which included questionable seat belt stops, The Herald-Tribune reported in June.
The sheriff's office offers the following clarifications to the Herald-Tribune report:
· Lee Martin — did not respond to multiple requests for information in the investigation, which was included in a memo the paper posted, but not mentioned in the story.
· Pedro Dominguez — Dominguez girlfriend said her 7-year-old child was not properly restrained in a setbelt, according to the sheriff's office.
· Tiffany Saputo — two witnesses “completely refute” Saputo's story saying that Saputo was the only one using profanity, according to the sheriff's office.
The purpose of Saputo's stop was to take in Devin Aquisto, according to the sheriff's office.
For more, read the complete report and scientific analysis located underneath the photo at the top right of this story.
This story clarifies the likelihood of the Jeep turning right at the time of the shooting and adds additional information concerning Shaw's debated traffic stops.