After Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael King shot Timmy Rhodes in the face, Rhodes’ fiance, Tammy Nichols, asked if the man she planned to marry was dead.
“Not yet, but he will be,” King allegedly said, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by Travis Rhodes, Timmy Rhodes’ brother, in the U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia.
Travis Rhodes made those claims in the lawsuit against King and the Roane County Commission, which, as the governing agency of the sheriff’s office, is responsible for the alleged negligent and reckless conduct of King and Roane County Sheriff Todd Cole.
Cole and the commission ignored reports about King’s misconduct and aggression prior to Timmy Rhodes’ death, Travis Rhodes claims in the lawsuit.
Travis Rhodes is represented by attorneys led by Booth Goodwin III, with Goodwin & Goodwin LP in Charleston, and Benjamin Adams, with Calwell Luce diTrapano LLC in Charleston.
Goodwin called King’s actions a “senseless act of violence.”
“This did not have to happen,” Goodwin said. “Our investigation to date has already revealed a number of credible complaints of violent and inappropriate behavior by King that his employers most certainly knew or should have known about. King is a rogue deputy and he should have been reined in before something like this tragedy occurred.”
On behalf of his brother’s estate, Travis Rhodes is seeking unspecified damages, as well as attorneys fees and other court costs.
Before Timmy Rhodes died on Feb. 22, Sheriff Cole and the Roane County Commission had received complaints from citizens about King routinely using excessive force and making threats of lethal force, but no action was taken to curb King’s behavior, according to the complaint.
In one instance of alleged excessive force given in the lawsuit, attorneys said King, in 2013, detained a “very minor” child in the back of his police cruiser because the child’s hat had flown out of a school bus window.
In 2014, a woman called 911 after King, with his hand on his gun, allegedly commanded her to leave a dance at Walton Middle School when she came to pick up her child, according to the complaint.
During the early evening of Feb. 22, Timmy Rhodes and Tammy Nichols traveled to the Rhodes’ family home along Ambler Ridge Road, in Roane County, to collect mail and a few other items, according to the complaint.
A neighbor reportedly called 911 after Rhodes’ truck tires spun in the roadway on Ambler Ridge Road and kicked up rocks.
King responded to the Rhodes’ house wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a bullet-proof vest. He wasn’t wearing his deputy’s belt, did not have his badge displayed and did not have handcuffs, according to the complaint.
He was armed with a shotgun “to address what was, at most, a possible minor property damage claim,” attorneys said in the complaint.
After entering his family home, Timmy Rhodes returned to his vehicle, where Nichols was sitting.
Nichols said King “advanced quickly” on the Rhodes property and pointed the shotgun at them and shouted at them to get on the ground.
Nichols reportedly got out of the truck and knelt on the ground beside it, and Timmy Rhodes also exited the vehicle and asked why they were being ordered out of the vehicle on his family’s property.
King shoved Rhodes to the ground after saying “that it would not bother him to ‘blow your f-----g brains out,’” according to the complaint.
Timmy Rhodes and Nichols were lying on the ground. Nichols said she could see King point his shotgun at Rhodes, who was lying on his back, according to the complaint.
The point at which Timmy Rhodes and Nichols were on the ground is where accounts of what happened next differ between media statements made by Sheriff Cole and Travis Rhodes in the lawsuit. In February, Cole said Timmy Rhodes became aggressive, lunged at King and brought him to the ground. During this alleged altercation, the sheriff said, Rhodes reached for King’s gun.
Nichols said Rhodes pulled his legs up in a way that she said looked like he was going to try to stand up but that he didn’t present any physical threat to King or try to take his gun, attorneys said in the complaint.
“Defendant King fired his shotgun at close range, shooting Timmy in the face,” attorneys said. “Timmy was unarmed, was not lawfully under arrest, and was in a completely defenseless position.”
King reportedly ordered Nichols to walk to the rear of the vehicle, face away from him and put her hands on her head, and she complied.
“Tammy waited with her hands above her head, while Timmy suffered and bled to death only feet away,” attorneys said.
King called 911 “minutes after Timmy was shot” and said Rhodes was still breathing. Rhodes died a short time later.
On Feb. 26, local news outlets reported that a group of people protested outside of the Roane County Courthouse, saying King had a history of using excessive force and that they did not trust the investigation into Rhodes’ death.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston.