The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has announced that it will look into the death of 39-year-old Jonathan Sanders, who died after an altercation with a police officer in Clarke County on Wednesday, the Guardian reports.
Sanders’ attorney, Stewart Parrish, told Newscaster 11, a local ABC-affiliate, that Sanders was exercising his horses in the town of Stonewall when Officer Kevin Harrington pulled him to the ground and choked him with a flashlight. Sanders’ girlfriend, Charita Kennedy, said Sanders told the officer he could not breathe and died at the scene.
Sanders, father of two, suffered “some kind of asphyxiation” during the altercation with Officer Harrington, Parrish told the Guardian. The account that he was choked with a flashlight comes, Parrish claims, from relatives who saw the incident unfold. Sanders was black; Harrington is white.
“We can’t really give out any particulars to it because it is an ongoing investigation. I can say that we’ve always had a good relation with the community, and we continue to do that,” Stonewall police chief Michael Street said.
Street denied the description of events that Parish offered, telling the Guardian that Sanders stepped out of his horse-drawn buggy and that he and Harrington engaged in a “fight” without using weapons. “We won’t know until the autopsy is over what was the actual cause of death,” Street said. “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 said that, according to Sanders’ relatives who witnessed his death, “Towards the end of the incident, he was telling the officer, ‘Let me go. I can’t breathe.’” The Clarion-Ledger reports that Parrish has since walked back his comments about a flashlight having been involved.
According to The Huffington Post, C.J. Lawrence, an attorney with Lumumba & Associates, is now representing Sanders’ family, and that he would only confirm that this is a case of “an unarmed black man being killed as a result of a police officer.”