BELLE PLAINE, Kan. -- A Kansas sheriff’s deputy caught on dashcam video running over a Black man who was fleeing shirtless across a field is now working at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility while under criminal investigation, according to the attorney for the injured man.
Lionel Womack, a former police detective from Kansas City, Kansas, alleges in an excessive force lawsuit filed last year that Kiowa County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Rodriguez intentionally drove over him during the Aug. 15, 2020, incident that was captured on dashcam video. Womack says he sustained serious injuries to his back, pelvis, and right thigh, knee and foot.
In a court filing responding to the lawsuit, Rodriguez denied he intentionally swerved his truck to run over Womack. The deputy said he learned later that Womack did not possess a weapon.
Attorney Michael Kuckelman, who represents Womack, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Kansas Secretary of Corrections Jefferey Zmuda and Warden Dan Schnurr that he was “shocked” to learn in a deposition that they would employ Rodriguez, who works as a master sergeant at the facility.
Kuckelman encouraged them to discuss the ongoing criminal investigations with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
William Townsley, who represents the deputy, told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday that Kuckelman's letter, which was copied to the press, was perhaps an effort to sway opinion and said it's intended to “harangue" Rodriguez. He added that it also seems to be an effort to influence state officials, saying they "anticipate that the Secretary and Warden will not be intimidated by his bluster.”
A spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said in an email that they are trying to determine the department’s position on this and will follow up “at a more appropriate time.”
Rodriguez testified in his deposition that he was asked by the Department of Corrections to work at the Hutchinson prison, despite the fact that he remains under criminal investigation and is on administrative suspension from the Kiowa County Sheriff's Office, according to Kuckelman's letter. He testified that the decision to allow him to work at the prison was made by Zmuda and Schnurr.
Kuckelman in his letter urged them to review the videos of Rodriguez running down Womack, and to consider whether it's appropriate to have him responsible for supervising prisoners and other prison guards.
"Master Sergeant Rodriguez has been employed by at least 15 different law enforcement agencies and multiple jails/prisons," Kuckelman wrote. “It is time to weed Master Sergeant out of all forms of law enforcement and cease covering or overlooking his misconduct as a law enforcement officer.”
But Townsley countered that Rodriguez has worked for the Department of Corrections for nearly 13 years, while also working part-time for other law enforcement entities. He said there is nothing new nor nefarious about this practice in law enforcement, particularly given the current shortage of corrections officers across the state.
Rodriguez has not been disciplined or terminated by any previous employer, he said.