Disturbing video shows deputy “intentionally” running over Black man, lawsuit claims

The dashcam video captured a horrific scene: a Kansas sheriff’s deputy in a patrol truck mowing down a Black man who was running, shirtless, across a field in the summer darkness after fleeing a traffic stop.

Lionel Womack — a 35-year-old former police detective from Kansas City, Kansas — alleges in an excessive-force lawsuit filed Thursday that he sustained serious injuries when Kiowa County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Rodriguez intentionally drove over him during the August 15 encounter.

Video: Deputy runs over fleeing man in Kansas field https://t.co/1zftT5kmBd #kwch12 pic.twitter.com/2vmvZuzRNQ

Womack said in a statement that he hadn’t been speeding nor was he under the influence of anything when he was initially pulled over. His driver’s license, insurance and registration were up to date.

“When the first officer turned his lights on, I pulled over and complied … exactly as you’re supposed to. But when three additional vehicles pulled up quickly and started to surround my car, I freaked out. That’s when I took off. It was a ‘fight or flight’ moment and I was going to live,” he said. “I felt like I was in danger. This was out in the country, late at night, and it was dark. So I ran for my life. That’s what you see in the dashcam video. I’m running in an open field, and I’m scared.”

The graphic video is at the crux of the federal civil rights case filed by attorney Michael Kuckelman against the deputy in U.S. District Court in Kansas. The lawsuit claims that Rodriguez used excessive force and was “callously indifferent” to Womack’s civil rights.

The lawsuit claims the deputy violated Womack’s constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, which protect against unreasonable searches and deprivation of life and liberty. It says Rodriguez “intentionally swerved” the truck in order to strike Womack, knowing it would likely cause severe harm or death.

“Such use of force was not objectively reasonable because neither [Rodriguez] nor anyone else could claim any objective fear of imminent bodily harm by Mr. Womack when he was run over,” the lawsuit says.

Womack had left the police department earlier in August with hopes of growing his own security business. He was on his way back home from a business trip to California when a Kansas Highway Patrol officer in western Kansas initiated a chase over “an alleged traffic violation,” according to the lawsuit. Sheriff’s deputies from Pratt County and Kiowa County joined in the chase.

The car chase eventually ended on a dirt road, and Womack took off on foot across a nearby farm field.

The dashcam footage from a Pratt County sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle shows Rodriguez using his patrol truck to catch up to Womack, who was unarmed.

Rodriguez swerves his truck and hits Womack, knocking him to the ground and running over him. Womack rolls out from under the truck, his arms and legs flailing on the ground as someone can be heart shouting, “Lie down, lie down.” A deputy in the second patrol truck can be heard uttering an expletive as he watches what is happening.

Womack alleges in his lawsuit that he sustained serious injuries to his back, pelvis and thigh as well as to his right knee, ankle and foot.

“The dashcam video is disturbing,” Kuckelman said. “It is impossible to watch a video of a deputy driving his truck over Mr. Womack without feeling sick. There was nowhere for Mr. Womack to go. It was an open field, and he was trapped, yet the deputy drove his truck over him anyway.”

Neither Kiowa County Sheriff Chris Tedder nor his attorney has responded to Associated Press requests for comment. No one has explained why Rodriguez chose to run Womack down. The deputy’s race is unclear.

Kuckelman urged the sheriff in person and in letters to fire Rodriguez, but he said the sheriff has refused. Rodriguez remains on patrol. Kuckelman also wants Rodriguez charged criminally and has accused the sheriff of engaging in a coverup of the deputy’s conduct.

“Mr. Womack and his family support good and honorable law enforcement officers but their support of law enforcement does not include the few dishonorable members of law enforcement such as Deputy Rodriguez,” Kuckelman wrote to Tedder in a letter Wednesday. “Your cover up and on-going protection of Deputy Rodriguez is wrong and in the long run, harms all the honorable members of law enforcement.”

Four months after the incident, Womack remains jailed on felony charges of attempting to elude a law enforcement officer by engaging in reckless driving and interference with a law enforcement officer. Court records show he is also charged with several misdemeanor traffic citations, including failure to drive in the right lane on a four-lane highway, improper signal and driving without headlights.

Zee Womack said her husband is still in jail because of an unrelated extradition request from Oklahoma. Online court records show Lionel Womack was charged in Texas County, Oklahoma, with endangering others while eluding or attempting to elude police on August 12, just days before his encounter with the officers in Kansas.

The records show Womack was arrested by a police officer in the town of Tyrone, Oklahoma, less than five miles south of the Kansas state line.

Womack comes from a law enforcement family. His wife and his mother are police officers in Kansas City, Kansas. His stepfather retired from police work as a sergeant there. Two aunts are police dispatchers.

Zee Womack watched the video of her husband being run over for the first time on Wednesday, replaying it four times as she struggled to understand why the deputy felt justified in using such force. Her husband is lucky to be alive, she said.

“I am a police officer as well, and I feel like especially right now it is a really difficult time to be a police officer. We don’t always get the support, I guess, that would be helpful in this occupation,” she said shortly after watching the video. “And this makes it a lot more difficult to be an officer.”

An officer who is capable of making decisions like that, she said, should not have a badge.

“To me it showed a blatant disregard for human life,” she said. 

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