West Virginia State Police have completed an investigation of a Roane County deputy’s second fatal shooting in as many years, but the agency report does not offer a conclusion on whether the shooting was justified.

Deputy Mike King shot and killed 63-year-old Michael Nichols on Oct. 22, 2020. Less than two years earlier — in February 2019 — King shot and killed 28-year-old Timmy Rhodes. The shootings were the subject of a Mountain State Spotlight investigation published earlier this month. 

The State Police investigation into the Rhodes shooting ends with a paragraph offering the officer’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. 

A State Police spokesman and Roane County officials did not respond to requests for comment by publication. A lawyer for King declined to comment.

Rhodes’ and Nichols’ families are suing King and others.

Lawyers for the families have alleged that King has a history of misconduct and that the shootings were unnecessary. They also say King didn’t wear a body camera during either incident, despite department policy requiring officers to activate the cameras “during the course of an encounter with the public that becomes adversarial after the initial contact.”

“For us, knowing what we know based on our own investigation, the [Nichols] report actually raises more questions than it answers,” attorney Booth Goodwin, who is representing the families in the lawsuits, said in an email. “We continue to firmly believe that this tragedy should not have occurred, and likely would not have occurred had Deputy King been dealt with appropriately following King’s shooting of Timothy Rhodes.”

In documents filed in response to the lawsuits, King denied any wrongdoing in both shootings.  

In early July, a Roane County grand jury decided not to indict King for the second shooting, according to The Times Record, a Roane County newspaper. A grand jury also declined to indict King in the earlier Rhodes shooting. A spokesperson for Roane County Circuit Judge Anita Ashley, as well as Jackson County Prosecutor David Kyle Moore, would not comment, citing the confidentiality of the proceedings. Moore was appointed after the Roane County prosecutor stepped down from the case.

King was put on administrative leave after the Nichols shooting. Roane County Sheriff R. Brian Hickman did not respond to emailed questions about whether King had returned to duty, though 911 Manager Melissa Gilbert said King had not been dispatched on any calls since the date of Nichols’ shooting. 

Killed on his front porch

Despite reaching no conclusion, the report does contain the first public look at King’s side of the encounter with Nichols. According to the deputy’s statement, which was included in the State Police report, he was off-duty when he got a phone call from Nichols’ neighbor, Jimmy Parsons, who said Nichols appeared to be under the influence of drugs. 

King said Parsons told him that Nichols had tried to instigate a fight with one of his workers and had tried to force his way into the residence where his wife was, the State Police report says. 

His wife, Selena Parsons, later told law enforcement that Nichols came to the door and “he acted like he was going to come in … so I pushed my way on out.” Nichols then mumbled something and left, walking down the road, she said.

The BB gun that had been on Michael Nichols’ porch. Photo via West Virginia State Police report.

King said he called the 911 dispatch center but got dressed himself to respond, knowing it would take him 15 minutes to get to the scene in Gandeeville compared to 40 minutes for other officers.

He said he “felt that it was in the best interest of Mr. Parsons and his family’s safety to respond.”

King said he pulled into Nichols’ driveway in an unmarked vehicle but turned on the blue lights within to let Nichols and anyone else there know that he was law enforcement. The deputy got out of the vehicle. He said Nichols sat on his porch swing and stared straight ahead, as if he didn’t notice King.

According to a federal lawsuit filed by Nichols’ daughter, Melissa Fields, Nichols — who lived alone and owned no guns — would have been well-lit by a large street lamp that “would have made it easy to see that Michael presented no imposing threat to anyone.”.

Also, it wasn’t King’s first visit there. The deputy said within the previous eight months, King  and others had come to Nichols’ home with a search warrant and that Nichols said he had been distributing methamphetamine. Before that, King said, he had arrested a fugitive at Nichols’ home. 

In a February interview with Mountain State Spotlight, Fields said her father had been arrested in the past for drug-related crimes. She said he began using drugs after he was prescribed opioids following an injury. He eventually got treatment and was clean for three years, she said, but had relapsed. Marijuana and methamphetamine were recovered from his house, according to the State Police report. 

In his statement, King said he called out to Nichols and identified himself as law enforcement, after which Nichols stood up and began yelling things the deputy couldn’t understand. 

At this time, King said he saw what he called a “lever action, long gun” leaning on a post next to the porch swing. The deputy said he then drew his own gun.

Only two guns were recovered from the scene and mentioned in the State Police report: King’s Glock handgun and a Daisy BB gun.

In her lawsuit, Fields predicted King would use that BB gun — which she said was old and  wedged under the porch railing and used as a decorative spindle — as justification for the shooting.

It had been there for quite some time, and would have been familiar to King, who had visited Nichols’ residence before, the lawsuit argues. 

It was “obviously not a threat in the unlikely event it could have even been seen by Deputy King from his position when he shot Michael,” the lawsuit says.

Tyler Nichols, Michael Nichols’ grandson, shows the spot where the BB gun was located. Photo by Douglas Soule.

King said that after he gave “loud, clear commands to move away from the gun,” Nichols let out a “war cry” and lunged for it.

In a statement he gave after the shooting, neighbor Jimmy Parsons told law enforcement he heard King yell for Nichols to get on the ground, and he heard Nichols screaming.

Parsons also said he heard King say “Why did you do that?” and then, “Hang in there I’m getting help.”

The deputy said in his statement that he shot Nichols three times, and Nichols fell after the third shot. King said he then approached and threw Nichols’ gun into the yard. The State Police investigation report said the Daisy BB gun was recovered from a flower bed.

In her lawsuit, Fields alleges King shot Nichols once in the chest, once at a downward angle through his side into his pelvis, and once by placing his gun barrel against Nichols’ cheek and shooting him through the face downward into his chest. 

Nichols was either doubled over or sitting on the ground when King fired at least two of his shots, the lawsuit alleges.  

The trial for the federal suit filed by Travis Rhodes, Timmy Rhodes’ brother, is set to begin on Feb. 22, 2022, according to a scheduling order. Melissa Fields’ lawsuit over the Michael Nichols shooting is expected to go to trial seven weeks later.

lawsuit filed by Tammy Nichols, Timmy Rhodes’ fiancée (who is not related to Michael Nichols), in the Roane County Circuit Court has been transferred to Kanawha County after all the judges in the 5th Judicial Circuit — Jackson, Calhoun, Mason and Roane counties — recused themselves from the case.

Douglas Soule is a Report for America corps member who covers business and economic development. A Bridgeport native, he worked as an intern at the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He has served as editor-in-chief...