In what has become a disturbingly familiar pattern, an unarmed Black man was pronounced dead at the hands of a law enforcement officer on July 8.
Jonathan Sanders, 39, was killed in Stonewall, Mississippi after allegedly being put in a chokehold by officer Kevin Herrington.
According to C.J. Lawrence, one of the attorneys representing Sanders’s family, the victim was riding in his horse-drawn buggy on Wednesday evening around 10 and went to a local gas station. He witnessed a fight between Herrington and a second white man (who Sanders knew). After Sanders asked Herrington to leave the other man alone, Herrington allegedly threatened Sanders and used a racial slur.
After this altercation, Herrington got into his car (with an unidentified female) and followed Sanders, who was still on his buggy, and turned on his lights. According to eyewitnesses, the lights frightened Sanders’s horse, which threw Sanders off his buggy and took off. Sanders chased after his horse, “unaware of what was going on behind him,” Lawrence explained.
Herrington went after Sanders, and when he reached him he put him in a chokehold. Initial reports said that Herrington used a flashlight to choke Sanders, but Stonewall Police Chief Michael Street has denied this. According to witnesses, Sanders cried, “I can’t breathe” while Herrington choked him the well-known refrain tied to the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island just a year ago.
By the time EMTs arrived, Sanders was already dead. He had been in a chokehold for at least twenty minutes, witnesses said.
A correctional officer who witnessed the incident approached Herrington and asked him to let Sanders go, but Herrington claimed that Sanders had went after his gun.
According to one of the witnesses, “I never saw [Sanders] go for the officer.”
Chokwe Lumumba, the other attorney representing the Sanders family, said, “Witness 3 was saying ‘Let him up, let him up, he’s not breathing, let me do CPR.’ He is trained in CPR and had a mask in his home. But Herrington said ‘No, stand back.'”
Sanders’s family is devastated and seeking answers for the injustice. Lon McCoy, a cousin of Sanders, said, “I just felt it wasn’t right.”
The investigation is still ongoing, but Lawrence stated he believes “there is probable cause for a prosecution.”
In other similar cases that have occurred over the past year, including that of Eric Garner, no one was ever held responsible for the crime. However, it appears that Lawrence and Lumumba want this to be different. They are asking that Clarke County’s district attorney Bilbo Mitchell, who would ordinarily handle the case, not be given Sanders’s case. Of the 15 previous cases Mitchell handled which involved killings by officers, none ended in an indictment.
The results of Sanders’s autopsy are not yet available. Meanwhile, Herrington is currently on paid administrative leave.