Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
A recent Mississippi killing sounds a lot like Eric Garner’s.
Just as the family of Eric Garner was finalizing a $5.9 million wrongful-death settlement with New York City, a similar police-involved killing occurred in Mississippi. This one involved Jonathan Sanders, 39, an African-American man who died last week in the small city of Stonewall, Mississippi, after an altercation with a police officer. Witnesses say they saw the officer maintaining what looked like a chokehold on Sanders while he tried communicating that he couldn’t breathe—a story starkly similar to how Eric Garner died.
Ryan L. Nave of the alt-weekly Jackson Free Press recently sat with the Sanders family’s attorneys, who provided some additional details about the fatal encounter, which occurred Wednesday, July 8, while Sanders was riding in a horse-led buggy:
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 ... 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.
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.
Funeral services for Sanders will be held this weekend. Meanwhile, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether the use of force and the ensuing death were justified.
That’s not the only recent incident of police violence, however.
Another police-involved shooting happened this past weekend in St. Louis, Missouri, where police are on alert after a damning U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation recently lambasted police practices not only in Ferguson—where unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a police officer—but throughout St. Louis County.
This weekend’s shooting involved 16-year-old Brandon Claxton, who witnesses say police chased down and shot as he ran through a playground where children were out playing. Police say Claxton was running toward them with a gun they suspected he had stolen from a house based off a tip. Witnesses have given a different account, saying Claxton had a gun in his hand, but that he was running away from police and was not seen pointing it at the police chasing him. The teenager is now reportedly paralyzed in the hospital and in critical condition. His mother told the St. Louis Dispatch newspaper yesterday that she’s not been able to see him yet because he’s in police custody.
Meanwhile, small street protests have started over the past few nights in front of a St. Louis police station. According to some participating in those protests, a teenage girl’s arm was broken when police broke up a demonstration there.
This news comes as a federal judge today dismissed four parts of Michael Brown’s family’s wrongful-death suit against the Ferguson police department, which argues that a “culture of hostility” existed that led to Brown’s killing. Damages haven’t been specified by the family in the case. Still, it’s plain that lawsuits, street protests, riots, and calls for police reform from the federal government haven’t yet convinced every police department and officer in the United States to reconsider how quickly they’re resorting to the use of force with African-American suspects.
In the police-involved death that just happened Mississippi, it’s not clear yet that the deceased Sanders was even suspected of committing a crime. As the family’s lawyer, C.J. Lawrence, told the Jackson Free Press, “What crime could you have committed that would require a violent takedown?"