— DIFAmili Sejati (@Difamili_DF) July 11, 2015
Officials from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are examining the death of an unarmed Black man who died during an altercation with a White police officer.
The Stonewall officer, Kevin Harrington, is accused pulling the Clarke County man, Jonathan Sanders, off his horse and choking him with a flashlight, the victim’s lawyer told WAPT News. The police officer reportedly continued to exert force even as Sanders, 39, said “I can’t breathe,” attorney J Stewart Parrish said. Sanders died on Wednesday, just a week and two days shy of the year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death.
Garner, a Staten Island father of six, died after being held in an illegal chokehold by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014.
According to Parrish, Sanders suffered from “some kind of asphyxiation,” the Guardian writes. Results from an official autopsy have not been released; a detail Stonewall police chief Michael Street says is needed to confirm Parrish’s accusations. Street denied the allegations, telling the Guardian that Sanders “voluntarily stepped down from a horse-drawn buggy.”
“We won’t know until the autopsy is over what was the actual cause of death,” said Street. “But there was no flashlight used to choke anybody – that’s false. And there were no shots fired by either man, there were no weapons at all, and he was not dragged off a horse.”
Parrish described the chief’s denial as “a difference without a distinction” because Sanders “was choked to death”, according to the relatives. “Towards the end of the incident, he was telling the officer ‘Let me go, I can’t breathe,” Parrish said they had recalled.
The attorney, who is a former law enforcement officer, said Harrington appeared to have used excessive force. “Officers typically have Tasers, they have pepper spray – there are lots of different non-lethal ways to subdue somebody,” he said. “And one way, of course, is to walk away and come back with more officers.”
It is unknown why Harrington stopped Sanders, although Street told the Guardian that Sanders’ horse carriage had no lighting. “At 10.30 at night that’s … well I can’t discuss that further,” he told the site. Family members, however, said the carriage did have lights.
Witnesses said the officer first stopped a man in a car who had just driven up beside Sanders’s buggy, according to Parrish. He then let this man go and pursued Sanders instead. “He was asking ‘Why do you stop me? What are you hassling me for?,’” Parrish said the witnesses had recounted. “He pulled him off the buggy, and they went to the ground, and it went from there.” The police chief said Sanders had no active warrants against him and that Harrington did not know who he was when the confrontation took place.
Because the investigation is ongoing, officials are mum about the details surrounding the arrest, but it is known that the officer involved and a medic gave Sanders CPR after the altercation. Sanders, who died at the scene, was then taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Parrish, who was representing the victim already for a charge he caught for possession of drugs earlier this year, said the 39-year-old was “relatively fit and healthy,” before the incident.
An investigation continues. Harrington was given a drug test and placed on administrative leave.
Sanders leaves two children behind, including a one-year-old child.