JACKSON Attorneys for the family of Jonathan Sanders, a black man killed last week after being stopped by a white Stonewall, Miss., police officer, recounted to the Jackson Free Press Tuesday afternoon the events leading up to Sanders' death, based on witness testimony to investigators and lawyers.
Until now, there has been very little information about the circumstances surrounding the altercation that took place between Sanders, who was black, and white police officer Kevin Herrington in Clarke County.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is handling the case, which is routine. Chokwe A. Lumumba and C.J. Lawrence, of Jackson-based Lumumba & Associates, sat in on the first round of interviews, which took place in Jackson last week.
The attorneys told the Jackson Free Press that around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 8, Sanders, who was sitting in a buggy being pulled by a horse, observed Officer Kevin Herrington speaking with a man Sanders knew at the Cefco gas station in Stonewall.
The attorneys say when Sanders rode by, he told Herrington to leave the man alone. The lawyers declined to identify the man at the gas station, except to say that he is white.
Based on the testimony of other witnesses who live near where the scene played out, Herrington caught up with Sanders down the road and flashed the blue lights of his squad car. Sanders' horse reared up, presumably frightened by the lights, knocking Sanders from the buggy and causing the headlamp he was wearing around his head to fall around his neck. The horse started to run off, and Sanders ran after him.
According to the lawyers, witnesses say Herrington chased after Sanders, grabbing at the headlamp around his neck and pulled him to the ground, which the attorneys believe could be where early false reports came from about Herrington using a flashlight to subdue Sanders. From there, Herrington spun Sanders around and applied a headlock, they said.
Witnesses told the lawyers that Sanders was face down with his hands underneath him; Herrington was on his knees in front of Sanders, they said. By then, several neighbors had gone outside, including a witness who told Herrington that Sanders would not be able to breathe with his face buried in the tall grass.
The attorneys say that Herrington had a female companion with him in the police car, who was not an officer. As Herrington applied a chokehold, attorneys say, the officer instructed the female companion to remove his gun from its holster so that Sanders could not reach it; however, the woman could not unholster the weapon, but one of the witnesses was able to tell her how to remove it.
Witnesses told the attorneys that Sanders said at least twice that he could not breathe, attorneys say. Another witness went home and got a mask that would enable them to perform CPR just in case it was needed. Attorneys say Sanders never fought the officer and did not move throughout the incident. Herrington did not let the witness perform CPR and maintained the headlock until backup and emergency-medical technicians arrived as much as 30 minutes later, the attorneys for the Sanders family say.
The attorneys, Lumumba and Lawrence, said Sanders had no active warrants and cannot understand why Herrington would follow Sanders.
"You can't speed on a horse," Lawrence said. "What crime could you have committed that would require a violent takedown?"
Eventually, EMTs placed Sanders in an ambulance, but the lawyers are unclear on the time of death. They have yet to see the autopsy report; Sanders' body was returned to Clarke County for his funeral services this weekend, July 18 and July 19. Lawrence, one of the attorneys, said the autopsy information is necessary in order to put Sanders, the father of two children, to rest.
"His mom is obviously hurt. She's a strong woman," Lawrence said. "She's trying to manage."
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is handling the case that centers on the community of 1,088 people, 21 miles south of Meridian, in Clarke County. Warren Strain, an MBI spokesman, told the Jackson Free Press this morning that the same team that investigated the shooting deaths of Hattiesburg police officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate is handling the Sanders death investigation.
On Saturday night, more than 100 of Sanders' friends and supporters held a peaceful vigil in Stonewall. A community meeting takes place tonight in Stonewall.
Read more of JFP's coverage of Jonathan Sanders' case here.