A Mississippi police officer is accused of choking an unarmed black man, 39-year-old Jonathan Sanders, to death. The incident took place in Stonewall, Mississippi, Wednesday night after some sort of “altercation” took place between Sanders and Stonewall police officer Kevin Herrington. Police say they are still investigating the incident and won’t know the exact cause of death until an autopsy is complete.
The Clarion-Ledger reports that Jonathan Sanders, a father-of-two, was driving a buggy pulled by a horse when he entered a subdivision where his cousin lived. Attorney Stewart Parish, who is acting as spokesperson for the Sanders family, notes that when Sanders entered the subdivision he pulled the buggy over into his cousin’s yard when he saw officer Kevin Herrington approaching from the other direction. For some reason that is yet still unclear, officer Herrington also pulled over into the yard.
“We don’t know why he was going after Jonathan, we don’t know what the reason for stopping him was, we don’t know what led up to this incident.”
At this point the story gets a little unclear. Stonewall Police Chief Michael Street notes simply that “an altercation did take place between 10:30 and 11 p.m.” However, Street does not elaborate further. He does note that officer Herrington went to the yard because “it was night and he didn’t really know what he was dealing with,” but he does not elaborate on what actions specifically led to the “altercation” that left Sanders dead by apparent asphyxiation.
According to the Guardian, witnesses on the scene during the altercation with officer Herrington claim that Sanders could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” The family’s attorney also told several local media outlets that the white officer had pulled Sanders from his horse and choked him to death with his flashlight. However, the allegations of the flashlight being used have been refuted. Parrish told the Guardian that the initial allegations had come from relatives who live beside the site of the struggle and witnessed it.
Police Chief Street adamantly denies that a flashlight was used to choke Sanders and also notes that no one was pulled off of a horse. However, Street has yet to provide details on exactly what led to physical force being used in the yard or whether or not the choking was the actual cause of death.
“At this point there’s no clarification whether choking is the actual cause of death until the autopsy is complete. At this time it would be premature for us to speculate on any of the events as they unfolded until all the witnesses have been interviewed. Law enforcement doesn’t have the luxury of speculating. We deal in facts and truth, and in this instant as in any other, that’s what we will do. But there was no flashlight used to choke anybody – that’s false. And there were no shots fired by either man, there were no weapons at all, and he was not dragged off a horse.”
So it seems that Police Chief Street is admitting that Sanders was unarmed when he was killed in his cousin’s yard. Sanders did have a criminal past; he was out on bond from an April arrest for possession of cocaine. He was also sentenced to a five-year prison term for selling drugs. However, he was convicted in 2003 and released in 2007.
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