Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get stories like this delivered to your email inbox once a week; sign up for the free newsletter at https://mountainstatespotlight.org/newsletter
By Douglas Soule, Mountain State Spotlight
The payout from cases stemming from lawsuits filed against a single West Virginia sheriff’s deputy has now surpassed $1.3 million.
The total increased earlier this week, when Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston approved the latest settlement, reached through mediation: $585,000 for the family of Michael Nichols, a 63-year-old man shot and killed by Roane County Deputy Mike King in 2020. The county already paid $745,000 to settle three lawsuits filed over the past two years.
The Nichols shooting and a previous one — King shot and killed Timmy Rhodes in 2019 — were the subject of a Mountain State Spotlight investigation. A county-level lawsuit over the Rhodes shooting is still ongoing.
According to county records, King is still employed by the county and is among the highest-paid in the sheriff’s department.
“The word out is he’s still in law enforcement, and that’s the guy that has no business being in law enforcement,” said Thomas Nichols, Michael Nichols’ older brother, after this week’s settlement hearing. “He just got off scot-free.”
County officials did not respond to requests for comment and questions, including about King’s current job duties. In court filings, county officials have denied the lawsuits’ accusations. Drannon Adkins, a lawyer representing the county and King, declined to comment in the courtroom on Wednesday.
King has not appeared in any of the county’s 911 dispatcher’s entries so far in 2022, according to a call log obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The log has listed him as an assisting officer on only six calls since the Nichols shooting almost a year and a half ago.
For the past few years, lawsuits involving King’s alleged actions have been working their way through the courts.
Two of the cases involved alleged assault by King and West Virginia State Police officers. In 2019, David Idleman, a former school bus driver, alleged he was assaulted by King and state troopers. His lawsuit was settled for $60,000 in 2020, split between the state and the county, according to The Times-Record newspaper in Spencer.
The county also settled a case filed by Clay County resident Brad Proctor against King and State Police officers. Proctor alleged King and the state troopers forced their way into his residence and assaulted him shortly after Proctor was involved in a vehicle chase that caused King to wreck his cruiser. Proctor received $25,000, according to The Times-Record, with $15,000 of it coming from the county and the rest from the State Police.
Then, there were the shootings that killed Rhodes and Nichols.
In a statement after the incident, King claimed Rhodes attempted to take his shotgun before the deputy fired point blank at his head, killing him. But lawyers representing his family denied this in court filings and said Rhodes did not present any physical threat to King. A lawsuit filed against King and the county by Travis Rhodes, Timmy’s brother, was settled for $700,000; a second lawsuit filed by Rhodes’ fiancée is still pending.
In 2020, King shot and killed Michael Nichols. The deputy, who approached Nichols on the man’s front porch, said he ignored orders and lunged for a gun — which turned out to be a BB gun — before the deputy shot him three times.
In a lawsuit, Melissa Fields, Nichols’ daughter, said the BB gun was used as a decorative spindle in the porch railing and that King would’ve known that, since he had been on the property before.
There was no sign of physical struggle between King and Nichols at the scene or on Nichols’ deceased body, according to the lawsuit.
A grand jury decided not to indict King for either of the shootings.
Lawyers for the Rhodes and Nichols families allege in court filings King has a history of misconduct, and that he didn’t wear his body camera during either shooting, despite a county policy requiring it.
A State Police investigation into the Rhodes shooting ends with a paragraph offering the agency’s conclusions: that King’s actions were a “reasonable and necessary” response. But a report on the Nichols shooting does not include a similar concluding paragraph.
Reach reporter Douglas Soule at email@example.com