SARASOTA, Florida - Emotions ran high at a local church as friends and family of Rodney G. Mitchell mourned the 23-year-old's death. But some in the audience, as well as many in the community, are calling for justice after Mitchell, unarmed, was fatally shot by two deputies following a minor traffic stop.
According to deputies, Mitchell was pulled over for not wearing his seatbelt the night of Monday, June 11. With a second deputy approaching his Jeep Liberty, he started driving toward him. That deputy, Sgt. Troy Sasse, saying he felt his life was in danger, fired two shots into the vehicle. The other deputy, Adam Shaw, fired two shots as well.
There is concern across Sarasota that the death could inflame touchy racial relations between law enforcement and residents of the city's Newtown neighborhood. Mitchell, a Palmetto High grad with family in Sarasota, is black. The two deputies that shot him were both white. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office was helping Sarasota police that night with enhanced patrols.
"In the end, we are certain that (their) actions were not justified," Daphney Branham, attorney for the Mitchell family, said of the deputies. "They used excessive force when it was not necessary under those circumstances."
In his two-and-a-half years with the sheriff's office, Deputy Shaw had been suspended once for not following protocol during a booking and was put on a 90-day improvement plan after a series of complaints about his traffic stops.
At least five people had complained about Shaw's conduct during traffic stops, including "targeting" drivers by pulling them over for seatbelt violations when their seatbelts were securely fastened.
"This officer was known in the community as being a hot head," Branham said. "He was targeting different individuals from the community, from what we've heard."
But others at Mitchell's memorial service Saturday tried to downplay racial undertones.
"Our family has asked that people remain calm," said Mitchell's great aunt, Carolyn J. Mason, who also serves as a Sarasota County Commissioner. "If (upset residents) know anything, let the authorities know so that the investigation can be completed, we can get some answers, and we can move forward."
Sgt. Sasse has no recent discipline on his record.
The only arrest 10 News found in Mitchell's past was a DUI in New Mexico while he was in college, playing football for Eastern New Mexico University. After recently graduating, he leaves behind a 4-year-old son named Channing.