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Mississippi: Jonathan Sanders Killed Similarly to Eric Gardner

Jonathan Sanders (39) was a horse trainer. Due to the 95 degree weather, he liked to exercise his horses at night. A little before 10:00 pm on July 8th, 2015, he was seen chatting with a friend of his who happened to be white. After they dispersed, Officer Kevin Herrington pulled over the friend at one of the town’s two gas stations.

As Jonathan Sanders passed the scene, he yelled out, “Why don’t you leave that man alone?” as he continued to ride his horse. Sanders had no current warrants but was no stranger to law enforcement. He was currently out on bond on a cocaine possession charge from an April arrest. He also had already been convicted on charges of selling cocaine in 2013. Sanders’ arrest record shows other infractions as well. There are things like disturbance of the peace, sale of a counterfeit substance, domestic violence, and traffic violations. Sanders also had an outstanding civil suit against the police department for harassment.

A few minutes later, Officer Herrington caught up with Sanders. Three witnesses watched from a house less than 20 feet away. According to those witness accounts and the Sanders Family lawyers, the flickering of the lights scared the horse and caused it to throw Sanders off. As Sanders stood up and tried to regain control over his horse Officer Herrington (a part-time officer) used the strap from Sanders headlamp to gain control of him from behind.

The officer put Sanders in a choke hold. Witnesses heard Jonathan Sanders say, “I can’t breathe” twice. One of those witnesses, Rachel Williams, was a prison guard. A member of the extended Sanders Family wanted to administer CPR after Sanders passed out; however, Officer Herrington did not permit any intervention and continued the choke hold for 20 minutes. Officer Herrington did all of this in front of his wife, who secured his gun during the choke hold.

The official autopsy shows the Sanders death was a homicide by manual asphyxiation. Here is where it all gets dicey. Despite the autopsy statement there are still more questions that have to be answered. Some of those questions are:

  • What triggered the encounter?
  • Did Herrington use necessary force to restrain Sanders?
  • Was Sanders aggressive with the officer Herrington?

Presently Officer Herrington is on unpaid leave and was actually able to leave town to go on what is being reported as a family trip. His lawyers say he pulled Sanders over for suspected drug activity. However, it’s reported that an unnamed witness overheard him say, “going to get that nigger.” The chief of the Stonewall Police Department stated that Officer Herrington had never had any complaints filed against him. He had been a part time employee for years. However, in Enterprise Mississippi where Officer Herrington was also working as a police officer, a motorist wrote a letter claiming harassment after being constantly pulled over by officer Herrington. He sent the letter to both the police chief and the mayor.

“People are scared, they don’t want to say anything. But there’s a big issue with racism here, and there are no jobs. ”- Melissa Ann Johnson

District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell informed the people of Stonewall in a town hall meeting that there has never been an indictment that involved law enforcement in his 28 years serving four counties. He also recalls there being at least 15 cases of death by law enforcement. Stonewall is located in Clarke County and has a legacy of extreme racist violence. In 1918, there was what could be considered a mass lynching that took place, leaving two black pregnant women and two black men hanging from a bridge. In 1943, two young black boys were found hanging from the same bridge.

The NAACP made a statement that included, “The NAACP supports the efforts of the Sanders family and the Lumumba and Associates Law Firm to seek justice in this tragedy. The sheer gravity of yet another callous death at the hands of law enforcement demands a full and independent investigation at the local, state and possibly federal levels.”

Stonewall is a small Mississippi town near Meridian with a population of about 1100 people. Named after Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the city thrived off of the Burlington Industries Cotton Mill from 1868-2002. Located on Main Street, the mill provided 850 jobs that have never returned. The mill is still vacant. There is no Walmart or McDonalds; and the town is a dozen miles or so away from the nearest highway. The town is about 70% white and 30% black. In other words, this is the rural south. There are no dash cams or body cameras in this case.

Jonathan leaves behind two kids less than two years old.

Had you heard of Jonathan’s story? Do you think the family will get justice? Why was this officer able to leave town?

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