2 Fishy Deaths in Police Custody Raise Questions

Witnesses: Jonathan Sanders told cop 'I can't breathe' during 20-minute choke-hold
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 16, 2015 8:22 AM CDT
2 Fishy Deaths in Police Custody Raise Questions
In this July 11, 2015 photograph, people participate in a Justice for Jonathan Sanders prayer vigil and march in Stonewall, Miss.   (Jennifer Bozeman/The Clarke County Tribune, via AP)

A 39-year-old black man died last Wednesday after a Mississippi cop held him in a choke-hold for "more than 20 minutes, close to 30 minutes," a lawyer says. Three witnesses related to the victim say Jonathan Sanders was riding a horse-drawn buggy in Stonewall when he made a comment to officer Kevin Herrington, who had pulled over a driver. He said something like, "Why don't you leave that man alone?" the lawyer tells the Guardian. The driver who was pulled over says he then heard Herrington say, "I'm going to get that n*****," before confronting an unarmed Sanders. Police say there was "a fight," while witnesses say Sanders was choked with a head-mounted light he'd been wearing and twice uttered, "I can't breathe." A witness offered to perform CPR, but Herrington reportedly refused. Medical examiners have ruled Sanders' death a homicide by asphyxiation. "We believe there is probable cause for a prosecution," says the lawyer.

Meanwhile a second death in police custody in Texas has family and friends demanding justice. Sandra Bland, 28—a civil rights activist, per NBC News—was arrested for assault during a traffic stop last Friday and booked at Waller County Jail. Officials say they spoke with Bland at 8am Monday—the day she was to be released on $5,000 bond—but returned to find her dead in her cell. The Chicago Tribune reports her death was ruled a suicide by hanging, but relatives say that's "totally absurd" since she had "a thirst for life" and was about to start a new job. "I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life," a district attorney tells KPRC. "That's why it's very important a thorough investigation is done and that we get a good picture of what Ms. Bland was going through the last four or five days of her life." People are debating the case with hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland, while an online petition calls for the DOJ to intervene. (Read more police stories.)

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