A former police detective from Kansas has filed an excessive force lawsuit alleging that he sustained serious injuries when a Kiowa County Sheriff’s Deputy intentionally drove over him.
Lionel Womack said in a statement that he had not been speeding nor was he under the influence when he was pulled over in a traffic stop by Jeremy Rodriguez.
Mr Womack, who is Black, says despite this, and even though his driver’s licence, insurance, and vehicle registration were up to date, he panicked and fled.
A graphic dashcam video captured the series of horrific events that unfolded next as the patrol truck mowed him down, as he ran shirtless across a field on the night of 15 August.
“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 video is the crucial piece of evidence in the federal civil rights case filed by attorney Michael Kuckelman against the deputy in the US District Court in Kansas.
In the lawsuit, Mr Kuckelman argues that Deputy Rodriguez used excessive force and was “callously indifferent” to Mr Womack’s civil rights.
Mr Womack had left the police department earlier in August with hopes of building up his own security business. He was on his way home from a business trip to California when a 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, which eventually ended on a dirt road. Mr Womack then took off on foot across a nearby field.
The dashcam footage from a Pratt County sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle shows Mr Rodriguez using his patrol truck to catch up to Mr Womack, who was unarmed.
The deputy apparently swerves the truck to hit Mr Womack, knocking him to the ground and running over him.
Mr Womack rolls out from under the truck, his arms and legs flailing on the ground as someone on the video shouts at him to lie down.
A deputy in the second patrol truck is heard to utter an expletive as he watches what is happening.
The lawsuit alleges that Mr Womack sustained serious injuries to his back, pelvis, and thigh, as well as to his right knee, ankle, and foot.
Commenting on the disturbing footage, Mr 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 responded to a request for comment by the Associated Press.
Mr Kuckelman has urged Sheriff Tedder in person and in letters to fire Mr Rodriguez, but he has refused and the deputy remains on patrol. The attorney also wants Mr Rodriguez charged criminally and has accused the sheriff of engaging in a cover-up of the deputy’s conduct.
Four months later, Mr Womack remains in jail 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 misdemeanour traffic citations, including failure to drive in the right lane on a four-lane highway, improper signalling, and driving without headlights.
Mr Womack comes from a family entrenched in local law enforcement. His wife and his mother are police officers with the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department. His stepfather retired from police work as a sergeant there, and two of his aunts are police dispatchers.
After watching the video, his wife, Officer Zee Womack said she struggled to understand why the deputy felt justified in using such force and that her husband is lucky to be alive.
At a time when it is not easy to be in law enforcement, she said “this makes it a lot more difficult to be an officer”.
She added that someone capable of making a decision such as Mr Rodriguez did should not have a badge, saying: “To me it showed a blatant disregard for human life.”
Ms Womack filed a federal lawsuit last year alleging “rampant racism and sexism” in her own police department.
In his statement, Mr Womack said he believes that most police officers are good, but that law enforcement must be held accountable “when they cross the line”.
“I never imagined that I would someday be the victim of excessive force by a fellow law enforcement officer. He could have easily killed me.”
With reporting from the Associated Press