Kiowa County deputy placed on unpaid leave, months after man run over during chase
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update Friday, Jan. 15, 2021: The Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office announced that a deputy who ran over a man during a pursuit last August is on administrative leave without pay. The sheriff’s office said Part-time Deputy Jeremy Wilkerson-Rodriguez will remain on administrative leave until the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and KBI complete their investigation into the Aug. 15 pursuit during which Lionel Womack was injured.
Video from the Aug. 15 pursuit is part of a civil rights lawsuit filed in December.
Update Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020: Eyewitness News has obtained more video connected with a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last week. The video shared last week showed Lionel Womack being run over by a Kiowa County deputy during a pursuit in August. Tuesday, we saw much more of what led up to that moment.
What we saw last week were the final moments of that pursuit. In that video, it’s clear a Kiowa County deputy runs over Womack with his patrol vehicle. That is now part of the civil rights lawsuit. Through a Kansas Open Records Act request, we’re seeing more the pursuit at the heart of the lawsuit.
The video was obtained from the City of Pratt. Pratt police officers assisted in the pursuit that began with a traffic stop by the Kansas Highway Patrol. In the video, the car driven by Womack can be seen swerving, at times driving into oncoming traffic while being chased by several members of law enforcement. Spike strips are deployed more than once, disabling Womack’s car, causing sparks to fly from the rims. Eventually, Womack turns onto a dirt road and bails from his car. After running through a field for a short time, he is run over by the Kiowa County deputy.
Eyewitness News reached out to Womack’s attorney concerning the release of the full video.
“It is always better practice to comply with law enforcement. If a person doesn’t trust the law enforcement officer making the stop, the driver should call 911,” he said. “Deadly force may only be used if a person presents a deadly threat to law enforcement or a bystander. From the video, we know that Mr. Womack wasn’t a threat. Mr. Womack wasn’t armed, and he was on foot in a wide-open field in rural Kiowa County, Kansas.
The Kiowa County Sheriff said to expect a statement from him on Wednesday (Dec. 23). Womack has been transferred from to an Oklahoma City jail where he faces charges for running from police there.
Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020:
A civil rights lawsuit was filed in federal court in Wichita on Thursday on behalf of a former Kansas City Kansas Police detective. Lionel Womack, 35. says he was traveling in western Kansas on August 15, 2020, when he was pulled over by a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper. He then led authorities from at least three agencies on a car chase before running from the vehicle and into a field where a Kiowa County sheriff’s deputy ran over him with his patrol vehicle.
The incident was caught on the dashcam of a Pratt County deputy assisting in the pursuit. In the video, a Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office pickup truck can be seen pulling alongside Womack, striking him and then driving over the lower half of his body. Officers then exit their vehicles with guns drawn. Womack was treated for his injuries and has remained in jail in Kiowa County since the incident occurred.
Womack’s attorney, Michael Kuckelman, filed the lawsuit because he believes his client’s civil rights were violated.
“This is a particularly egregious case of use of deadly force because what they did is chase an unarmed man into an open farm field with a sheriff’s patrol pickup truck and they literally ran him down, knocked him down and drove the truck over him,” Kuckelman said. “And this was all over a traffic stop.”
Zee Womack, Lionel’s wife and a Kansas City Kansas Police officer for the last 13 years, says her husband told her he initially complied with the state trooper who pulled him over, but became scared when more officers arrived.
“He didn’t have any cell phone service out, kind of in the middle of nowhere, and he said his concern was getting to a well-lit place with independent witnesses because he was afraid that something was going to happen,” Zee Womack said. “That’s why he then initiated the pursuit by continuing on.”
It isn’t immediately clear how Lionel Womack’s vehicle became disabled during the chase, but his wife says the car is now totaled. Calls to the Kiowa County Sheriff for clarification were not returned Thursday. Once on foot, Womack runs into a field before being struck and run over by the deputy’s patrol truck. The deputy then attempts to reverse the vehicle, but the tires spin out preventing the truck from running Womack over a second time.
Melissa Underwood with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said KBI learned of the August 15 incident on September 3. Personnel from the agency were sent to the Kiowa County Attorney’s Office to offer investigative assistance, but Underwood says the offer was declined. On December 17th, after viewing the dashcam footage of Womack being run over by the Kiowa County patrol vehicle, Underwood said the KBI reached out again to prosecutors involved in the case and will provide support to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office in their review of the incident.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office confirmed to Factfinder 12 that the Kiowa County Attorney requested the AG’s office review the case. That review was pending as of Friday afternoon (12/18).
Kuckelman has written two letters to Kiowa County Sheriff Chris Tedder demanding the deputy behi/nd the wheel that night, Jeremy Rodriguez, be fired. In the letters, Kuckelman says Tedder has obstructed his investigation and that the sheriff’s office “immediately started a cover-up” that he claims started when deputies on scene told emergency responders Womack had not been run over by a vehicle.
In the letter, Kuckelman wrote, “The cover up started immediately when Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy “104” falsely told medical providers that he watched the dash camera video twice and that Mr. Womack was not run over.”
Womack “parted ways,” as his wife put it, with the Kansas City Kansas Police Department after 13 years just days before he led authorities in western Kansas on that chase. Zee Womack only saw the video of her husband being run over the night before the civil rights lawsuit was filed. She said it’s hard to watch. Not just as a wife, but as a police officer herself.
“We’re a law enforcement family, obviously, and we’ve both been in law enforcement over 10 years,” she said. “His mother is a police officer, his stepfather retired as a sergeant from our department. His aunts are dispatchers. We support the blue brotherhood, but obviously we don’t support officers who are rogue, for lack of a better terminology, and so he wants justice.”
While she and Kuckelman maintain Kiowa County deputy Jeremy Rodriguez struck and ran over Lionel Womack intentionally, Zee Womack said she does not speculate on why.
“I don’t want to play the race card, but I really don’t know. I don’t know what he was thinking,” she said. “It’s really hard to say why, in the middle of a field with someone running who is obviously unarmed, you felt the need to actually run them over with your vehicle.”
She said her husband called her from jail on Thursday to tell her he was being transferred to a jail in Oklahoma where he faces charges for running from authorities there. Kuckelman said his next move will be to take the deposition of deputy Rodriguez, Zee Womack said her next move is unknown.
“I mean, as a family, we just want to justice,” she said. “It’s almost Christmas time. Our kids, they miss their dad, and it’s really hard to explain to them...the situation. When we preach, you know, not all officers are bad individuals, and then you have something like this happen.”
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