SARASOTA, Fla. - Rodney Mitchell, 23, was a father and a standout football player at Palmetto High school. He'd recently earned a degree in education and he was trying to become a teacher.
Monday night, deputies with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office shot and killed Mitchell after they say they feared for their lives.
Mitchell's white SUV Jeep was pulled over by two deputies at the intersection of Washington Court and 29th Street around 9:30 p.m. They say at first Mitchell complied with their commands, but then abruptly said, "No." They say he then shifted the vehicle into drive and accelerated in the direction of one of the deputies, trying to run one of them over.
The deputies shot at Mitchell and his vehicle left the roadway, slammed into several cars in the parking lot of a Sunoco gas station, and came to a rest when it hit a cement barrier.
The memorial that Mitchell's family and friends held in his honor near the scene Tuesday night featured music and dancing, as well as candles. It was a celebration of his life.
Mitchell's great aunt, Doris Mayes, was there. She says the family doesn't believe the deputies were justified in shooting Mitchell. "I don't think they had a reason to shoot him. I really don't."
Jorad Holmes, 23, is also struggling to make sense of it all. He says, "I don't think he was trying to run them over. I think he was trying to run away."
He's stunned that his classmate from Palmetto High School's Class of 2007 is gone.
"At first, I was like 'It couldn't have been him' because it was a shocker, because I never heard of him...basically from middle school to high school, I've never heard of him getting in trouble."
Mitchell, a student athlete, played basketball and football at Palmetto High. He went on to play college football at Eastern New Mexico University. When he came home to visit, he went to the same church Holmes attends with his family. Family members say Mitchell had big plans.
Mayes says, "He said 'Auntie, I don't want to go play Canadian ball. I'd rather come home get a job and take care of my little boy.'"
But the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office paints a much different picture of Mitchell. Wendy Rose, a spokesperson for the department, says, "Any kind of traffic stop has its own risks. We don't know who we're walking up to and what their response to an officer will be. Fortunately, we do a lot of training. That's the best thing you can do about encountering the unknown is just train for any possible scenario, and both of these deputies saw the exact same threat and both responded the same way, simultaneously shooting at the vehicle."
There is no word on why Mitchell would have tried to run the deputy over, but someone else may know because there was a second person in the vehicle who took off running after deputies shot Mitchell.
Rodney Mitchell does not have an extensive criminal record, but he never should have even been behind the wheel. His driver's license was suspended.
The deputies were not hurt in the incident, but they are on paid leave, which is standard in these types of cases.