On July 8, Jonathan Sanders, a 39-year old Mississippi man, died after an altercation with police. Early headlines from the Jackson Clarion Ledger, the state's largest newspaper, were fairly straightforward. Police: Incident between horseman, officer ends in death, read one shortly after the incident. Yesterday, the headline Stonewall seeks peace in wake of police-related killing came out.
But then the Guardian published a shocking story about the incident. Entitled "Unarmed Mississippi man died after 20-minute police chokehold, witnesses say," the piece includes several gasp-worthy new alleged details of the case.
Through Sanders' family attorney, The Guardian reported on the accounts of three alleged eyewitnesses to the event, marking a sharp turn in the story's narrative. "The three witnesses are related to Sanders by marriage and one has 10 years of experience working in law enforcement," reported the Guardian. Which means this should be taken with a grain of salt.
Family lawyers told the paper the "state medical examiners provisionally found Jonathan Sanders died through homicide by manual asphyxiation," and that they believe there is probable cause for prosecution.
Mississippi police are being tight-lipped about the incident. “We can’t deal in speculation. We have to deal in facts and truth,” Police Chief Michael Street told the Clarion Ledger, saying police have to complete the investigation before making any information public. Fusion's attempts to reach the department for further comment were unsuccessful.
But practically every line of the Guardian report is gasp-worthy. Below, some lowlights.
Before the altercation, everyone agrees that Sanders was riding a horse-drawn buggy through the small town of Stonewall, population about 1,100. An early report from the Clarion Ledger said that he pulled the buggy over into his cousin's yard when the confrontation started.
According to the Guardian's report, though, Sanders allegedly addressed officer Kevin Herrington, who had pulled over a driver on the side of the road, as he passed by. "Why don't you leave that man alone?" Sanders said. At that point, lawyers say, the officer abandoned the stop and put his attention towards Sanders.
"I'm going to get that n****r," the officer then said, according to the driver. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has said they are aware of the alleged racist remark.
This tends to happen when you get placed in a chokehold. Initial reports from the Clarion Ledger and others speculated that the officer choked Sanders with a flashlight, but now it seems like they must have meant the head-mounted light Sanders had on when he was riding his horse in the dark.
Once the officer allegedly abandoned the traffic stop to focus on Sanders, he switched on his police lights. This surprised the horse, which reared-up, and knocked Sanders off the saddle, said attorneys. "His light slipped around his neck. Jonathan ran to get the horse and Officer Herrington came from behind him, yanked him down to the ground in front of the house with the light strap and placed him in a chokehold. Jonathan didn’t even see him," family attorney Chokwe Lumumba told the Guardian.
“I can’t breathe," an unnamed witness allegedly heard Sanders cry out.
“Witness 3 was saying ‘Let him up, let him up, he’s not breathing, let me do CPR’,” said Lumumba. “He is trained in CPR and had a mask in his home. But Herrington said ‘No, stand back’.”
This went on for more than 20 minutes, the witness said.
“This time frame, according to Witness 3, is that Jonathan was in a chokehold for more than 20 minutes, close to 30 minutes,” said Lumumba.
On the way to the scene, the medics apparently got lost. When they finally arrived on the scene, about 20 to 30 minutes later according to an unnamed witness, they used the aforementioned witness' CPR mask.
They were not successful.
Read the full Guardian report here.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.