Another tragic choking death of an unarmed black man has occurred in connection with a police encounter, this time in the town of Stonewall, Miss. The incident, which happened on July 8, is under investigation by authorities, including the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation.
Details remain sketchy at this point, but as best as events can be reconstructed, Jonathan Sanders, the man who died, was traveling in a horse-drawn buggy at around 10.30 p.m. when he came alongside the scene of a traffic stop and said something to police officer Kevin Herrington along the lines of “Why don’t you leave that man alone?”
What happened next is extremely hard to say, first because accounts differ with respect to significant details, and second, because all purported eyewitness accounts are secondhand. Meridian, Miss., ABC affiliate WTOK quotes Stewart Parrish, an attorney who was representing Sanders on a drug-related charge, as indicating that Herrington pulled Sanders off his horse and choked him with a flashlight. Parish’s information was supplied by Sanders’s girlfriend, Charita Kennedy, who said she witnessed the incident.
The Guardian newspaper quotes Chokwe Lumumba, an attorney retained by the Sanders family, who in turn quotes a different witness as saying:
Jonathan’s horse reared up, startled, and knocked Jonathan off his horse. His light [reportedly worn on a headband] 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.
A third witness told Lumumba that Sanders repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” while the driver of the stopped car — who was pulled over because of expired registrations tags and suspicion of DUI — is quoted by Lumumba as saying he heard Herrington say, “I’m going to get that n**ger.”
All witnesses confirm that Herrington shouted that Sanders was reaching for his gun and actually asked them to help remove the gun from his belt.
Lumumba is requesting that a special prosecutor take over the case, citing remarks at a town hall meeting on Tuesday by Clarke County’s district attorney, Bilbo Mitchell, to the effect that he had handled 15 cases of killings by police during his career and none had resulted in an officer being indicted.