SARASOTA, Fla. -- A civil rights lawsuit has been filed against Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and two deputies involved in the 2012 shooting of motorist Rodney Mitchell. The suit alleges that Sheriff Knight instituted unconstitutional office policies that resulted in Mitchell’s death on June 11, 2012. The lawsuit accuses the deputies involved of using excessive force, and says Sheriff’s Department policies may have played a role in the shooting.
The 66-page lawsuit filed in federal court highlights the rationale for a civil rights action. According to the complaint, the deputies conducted an illegal traffic stop -- an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment -- and used excessive force resulting in Mitchell’s death. The documents go on to say that Sheriff Knight failed to promulgate adequate policies and failed to supervise his subordinates.
In an interview with ABC 7 Black Almanac host Dr. Ed James, the attorneys who filed the documents made an even more shocking claim.
"This is nothing but a complete cover up and it appears to be a conspiracy," said attorney Vana Renejuste.
According to a Sarasota Sheriff's Office report issued after the shooting occurred, Deputy Adam Shaw pulled Mitchell over for an alleged seatbelt violation. Sgt. Troy Sasse arrived on the scene as backup. Shortly thereafter shots were fired.
A crime scene investigator hired by attorneys to look into the shooting said he's found inconsistencies with the deputies’ actions and the internal investigation conducted by the Sheriff's Office that found the deputies did nothing wrong.
"There is a situation, where as we discussed before, if you admit facts your outcome is going to be different,” says investigator Ken Williams. “And in the case of the Sarasota Sheriff's Office they have omitted certain facts, they have omitted testimony, and it has tainted the outcome in my belief.”
ABC 7 reached out to the Sarasota Sheriff's Office for comment, but they declined saying the law prohibits them from talking about the topic. They did send us this statement after a previous request for comment:
"While it is regrettable that Mr. Mitchell lost his life, the facts of this case confirm that he chose to disobey the lawful commands of the deputies."
But the attorney and the independent investigator in this case disagree.
"I’m able to analogize it and see things that are criminal, unreasonable and don’t make sense,” says Williams. “It leads one to believe what the heck is going on in Florida?"