KANSAS – Lionel Womack describes it as a “fight or flight” moment.
The former police detective, who is Black, was heading home from a business trip on Aug. 15 in western Kansas when he was pulled over by Kansas troopers and deputies from Pratt and Kiowa counties for an alleged traffic violation, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.
Womack, 35, of Kansas City, said in a statement released by his attorney that he had no criminal reason to panic. He was not speeding, drunk or on drugs. His driver’s license was valid, his insurance and vehicle registration up to date.
“When the first officer turned his lights on, I pulled over and complied — exactly as you’re supposed to,” Womack said. “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.”
Graphic dashboard camera footage shows what happened next.
In the video, a shirtless Womack can be seen running across an open field. Dirt is kicked up by pursuing patrol vehicles.
“I felt like I was in danger,” Womack explained. “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.”
Moments into the video, a truck driven by Kiowa County Deputy Jeremy Rodriguez swerves into Womack, knocking him to the ground and pulling him under the wheels.
“Lie down! Lie down!” someone shouts at Womack.
The deputy recording the confrontation can be heard shouting an expletive as Womack is run over.
See a clip of the dashcam video below. Editor’s note: The footage contains graphic imagery and explicit language.
In the full 16-minute video obtained by Womack’s attorney, deputies are seen standing over Womack as he lies handcuffed and motionless in the dirt of the unplanted farm field where he was struck. No one appears to provide first aid as they await paramedics.
According to the lawsuit, Womack suffered “serious injury to his back, pelvis, thigh, right knee, right ankle and right foot.” He was taken by ambulance to Pratt Regional Medical Center for treatment.
The lawsuit argues that Rodriguez violated Womack’s civil rights under the Fourth and 14th amendments.
“Defendant Deputy Rodriguez used force he knew was likely to cause death or severe harm to Mr. Womack,” the lawsuit states. “Such use of force was not objectively reasonable because neither he nor anyone else could claim any objective fear of imminent bodily harm by Mr. Womack when he was run over.”
Michael Kuckelman, an attorney representing Womack, called the video “disturbing.”
“It is impossible to watch a video of a deputy driving his truck over Mr. Womack without feeling sick,” Kuckelman said in a statement. “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.”
Kuckelman has made multiple requests to Kiowa County Sheriff Chris Tedder, urging the sheriff to fire the deputy who “hunted down and drove his Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office patrol truck over Mr. Womack.”
“Additionally, the deputy should be charged criminally with felony aggravated battery with a motor vehicle, just as any other citizen would be charged for hitting another person and driving over them with a motor vehicle without justification,” Kuckelman wrote in a letter dated Oct. 16.
According to The Associated Press, which broke the story about the lawsuit, Rodriguez remains on patrol duty. Tedder has not spoken publicly about Womack’s arrest.
A second letter dated Wednesday accuses Tedder of failing to hold the deputy accountable for what happened. It also points out that Tedder himself has criminal charges pending.
The Pratt Tribune reported in May that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation was investigating a May 10 incident involving Tedder and other individuals in the city of Greensburg. Tedder was charged with disorderly conduct in September, reported KAKE in Wichita.
Details of that incident have not been reported.
“Sheriff Tedder, for four months you have engaged in a cover-up of the wrongful conduct of Deputy Rodriguez,” Kuckelman wrote this week. “It is disconcerting that you remain in the position of sheriff and that you are responsible for investigating the wrongful conduct of Deputy Rodriguez while you have a criminal case pending against you.”
KBI officials told the AP that they did not learn of Womack’s violent arrest until September. Agents offered to help the Kiowa County Attorney’s Office investigate Rodriguez’s actions, but the office declined that offer.
State investigators, who saw the dashcam video Thursday for the first time, again took action. Melissa Underwood, a KBI spokeswoman, told the AP that state agents are assisting the Kansas Attorney General’s Office in a probe of the traffic stop.
Four months after the incident, Womack remains in jail. He is charged with felony attempting to elude a law enforcement officer by engaging in reckless driving and interference with a law enforcement officer, the AP reported. He is also charged with several misdemeanors.
Authorities in Texas County, Oklahoma, have charged Womack with endangering others while eluding or attempting to elude police, alleging that the former detective was speeding in that state as he drove into Kansas but that police could not catch him, Kuckelman said.
Womack is from a law enforcement family. While he left the Kansas City Police Department shortly before his arrest to start a security business, his wife, Zee Womack, is a police officer, as is his mother.
His stepfather is a retired police officer, and his aunts are 911 dispatchers.
“As a police officer myself, I rewatched it four times,” Zee Womack said of the video. “Just trying to get some sort of understanding as to why that officer felt justified in using deadly force.”