Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Deputies Cleared in Civil Suit over Fatal Shooting | Controversial Death of Driver in 2012 Provoked Protests

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Deputies Cleared in Civil Suit over Fatal Shooting | Controversial Death of Driver in 2012 Provoked Protests

Article excerpt

SARASOTA COUNTY

SARASOTA -- A federal judge has ruled in a civil suit that Sarasota County Sheriff's Office deputies did not use excessive force as part of a traffic stop in 2012 that ended with the controversial shooting death of driver Rodney Mitchell.

Stopped for not wearing his seat belt, Mitchell was shot and killed -- and a passenger was injured -- by the deputies when the 23- year-old reportedly tried to drive away.

Exonerated by the State Attorney's Office, Deputy Adam Shaw and Sgt. Troy Sasse have said they fired at the driver because, when the SUV lurched forward, they feared for the life of Sasse, who was reportedly standing in front of the vehicle.

The case -- which provoked local protests -- foreshadowed a series of racially charged shooting deaths of young black men across the country by law enforcement, sparking public outcry, intensified scrutiny of police, and triggered the Black Lives Matter movement.

But a federal judge in late November ruled in the Mitchell suit that the Sarasota sheriff's deputies were within reason to pull the trigger.

"Plaintiffs' claim for battery turns on whether the amount of force used was reasonable," U.S. District Judge James Whittemore wrote in his 20-page decision. "Because the deputies' use of force was reasonable, it cannot be said that Mitchell's death was caused by a wrongful act."

James Cook, a Tallahassee attorney who represented Mitchell's estate in the case, said an appeal is planned.

Cook said there were witnesses near the scene who said they heard the shots, then heard the vehicle's acceleration after. He says the judge essentially discounted that testimony.

He wants the case to land before a jury.

"Right now, the case is at about the halfway mark.

It is far from over," Cook said. "We will make another effort to persuade the judge that there are issues that have been presented that he has not fully considered."

Mitchell's estate sued Sarasota County Sheriff Thomas Knight, alleging excessive use of force by Sasse and Shaw. …

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