SARASOTA, Fla. -- In 2012, Rodney Mitchell was shot and killed by Sarasota County Sheriff's deputies after being pulled over for an alleged seatbelt violation. Now the shooting is once again in the spotlight.
In the 23 months since Mitchell died as the result of gunshot wounds to the head, Rodney's mom has been calling the incident a murder, and has now obtained an attorney. Though no lawsuit has been filed so far, those close to the case believe it is coming.
ABC 7 contributor Ed James showcased the shooting on his show Black Almanac earlier this week.
According to a report issued when the shooting occurred, Deputy Adam Shaw pulled over a white Jeep SUV with two men inside: 23-year-old Rodney Mitchell, a recent college graduate, and Dorian Gilmer, who was a minor at the time. Sgt. Troy Sasse arrived on the scene as backup. Deputy Shaw allegedly told Rodney to put the Jeep in park as Sgt. Sasse approached the vehicle. Shots were fired soon thereafter.
Mitchell suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head and died instantly. His SUV then crashed into another car at a Sunoco gas station.
"I want the entire case to be torn apart so that we can prove Rodney's innocence,” says Natasha Clemons, Mitchell’s mother. “I also want the officers to pay for what they've done. They were wrong.”
According to an incident report, when Rodney's body was pulled from his SUV he was wearing his seatbelt, which undercuts the rationale for the traffic stop. Since the incident, many in the community have rallied against what they say was the use excessive force.
An internal investigation conducted by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office found the law enforcement officers involved -- Deputy Adam Shaw and Sgt. Troy Sasse -- were justified. Independent investigator and retired homicide detective Ken Williams was hired by the Clemons’ attorney to review the case, and he disagrees with the SCSO’s assessment.
"The reports reflect ... that while Deputy Shaw is at the window engaging Mr. Mitchell, Sgt. Sasse is at the front of the vehicle drawing his weapon out, pointing, aiming -- and it’s a tactical weapon. What is perplexing is Sgt. Sasse is perceiving a threat but he's not the primary officer on the scene."
After the shooting, Rodney's mom Natasha Clemons says she spoke to Sheriff Tom Knight about the incident and says his response was very insensitive. “I asked him how is it that he can justify a case such as my son’s shooting, and he said that my son wasn’t the only person they killed; they had killed seven others,” said Clemons.
We contacted the Sarasota Sheriff's Office for comment and they sent us this statement.
"Due to pending litigation we remain constrained from discussing it so we must respectfully decline the interview request."
That statement went on to say, "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."
Nearly 2 years later, Dorian Gilmer, who was the minor in the SUV, is now a sophomore at Bethune-Cookman College, says he is still haunted by the incident.
“I thought they were going to kill me,” he says. “I just seen them, witnessed them killed my, what I looked up to as a brother, father-figure, all that -- I seen them take his life like it was nothing.”
Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the crime scene itself, and delve into questions about the Sheriff’s deputies past performance and its relevance to this case.