VICE News is closely watching policing in America. Check out the Officer Involved blog here.
Witnesses to Jonathan Sanders' death on July 8 in Mississippi have told investigators that police officer Kevin Herrington held the 39-year-old in a chokehold for more than 20 minutes, according to attorneys for the Sanders family.
The lawyers, Chokwe Lumumba and C.J. Lawrence, said that preliminary results of an autopsy have found that Sanders, who is black and was unarmed at the time of the confrontation, was strangled to death.
Last week in Stonewall, Mississippi, Sanders, a horse trainer, was reportedly riding one of his animals with a buggy near a gas station around 10PM, when there was an altercation between him and the police officer, who is white. According to some accounts, the officer had pulled over a driver and Sanders commented to Herrington, "Why don't you leave that man alone?"
The driver alleged that Herrington then said he was "going to get that nigger" before confronting Sanders.
As reported in the Guardian, paraphrasing Lumumba, a witness was in the window of a home near the scene and saw Sanders approaching, wearing a sort of miner's light.
"Then, Witness 1 saw officer Herrington's blue lights come on," said Lumumba. "Jonathan's horse reared up, startled, and knocked Jonathan off his horse. His light 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."
Earlier, it was alleged that Sanders was choked with a flashlight, although that allegation was denied by Stonewall Police Chief Michael Street, stating to the Guardian that "there was no flashlight used to choke anybody — that's false." That flashlight, it's now thought, may have been the light Sanders was wearing.
Various media outlets have also reported that Sanders, the father of two children, said, "Let me go. I can't breathe," before he died.
The police officer involved was placed on administrative leave, according to local media.
The attorneys have also indicated that one of the witnesses, trained in CPR, told them that he was prevented from performing resuscitation, according to the Guardian. "They lost him in the course of tragic circumstances, unnecessary circumstances," said Lumumba.