Tory Sanders Made a Wrong Turn Into Missouri. He Never Made It Out

Tory Sanders.

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Tory Sanders called his mother multiple times from the Mississippi County jail before his death. - COURTESY OF JUSTICE FOR TORY SANDERS FACEBOOK
Tory Sanders called his mother multiple times from the Mississippi County jail before his death.

Tory Sanders' relatives still cannot figure out what happened inside that jail.

Mississippi County Coroner Terry Parker says an autopsy showed no signs of trauma on Sanders' body, and he will have to wait for a toxicology report and review the 28-year-old's medical history before determining the cause of death.

"In the efforts to restrain him, he collapsed, which we think there must have been some kind of medical or medicine issue involved here," Parker says.

The U.S. Department of Justice has warned against repeatedly tasing people, because research has shown the practice can increase the chance of death. And manufacturer Taser International, which has changed its name to Axon, warns against using the drive-stun mode, in which the device is jammed directly against the target's body, on mentally ill people.

"Drive-stun use may not be effective on emotionally disturbed persons or others who may not respond to pain due to a mind-body disconnect," says a company warning. "Avoid using repeated drive-stuns on such individuals if compliance is not achieved."

The circumstances of Sanders' tasing have yet to be revealed publicly. Parker did not respond to follow-up questions about Taser use in the case.

Until May 5, Sanders' relatives were blissfully unaware of Mississippi County's problems or Sheriff Cory Hutcheson. Quick Google searches that night turned up the news about the sheriff's arrest from the month before, and they have begun to sort through the disturbing allegations contained in multiple civil lawsuits.

The suits include the cases of Tara Rhodes and Somer Nunnally, both of whom were inmates in Mississippi County while Hutcheson was the jail administrator, his post before he was elected sheriff. Rhodes, who was pregnant, spent five days begging for medical help as she went into preterm labor in December 2014, according to the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on her behalf. It was not until Hutcheson's staff transferred Rhodes to a women's prison across the state that she was seen by a doctor, and by then the baby was as good as dead. The child was stillborn on Christmas Eve.

Nunnally was a young mother, arrested at the scene of a one-car crash. She was dangerously high, and both the Charleston cops who arrested her and jailers knew it, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of her children. Instead of getting her help, corrections officers laughed after she urinated on herself and slumped onto the floor of her cell, the suit says. She died right there.

Sanders' family called the NAACP in Tennessee after his death. They have been speaking to attorneys in hopes of uncovering answers.

A lawyer for the family says they will wait on the full investigation to decide their next steps, but what they have heard so far is troubling.

"This is not how you respond to a mental health crisis," Nashville-based attorney Michael Hoskins told reporters at a news conference. "If someone is having a mental health crisis, you do not detain them and forcibly restrain them and tase them and brutalize them in a cell. This is not the way you treat people with mental health issues in America. This is a complete travesty."

Nance says there are just too many questions. She wants to know the jail's protocol for dealing with the mentally ill. She wants to know why the only signs of trauma on her nephew's body were from a Taser when Hutcheson has claimed that Sanders put six officers in the hospital. And she wants to know why Hutcheson, a man facing eighteen criminal charges, was still running the sheriff's office.

The answers are slow in coming, but Hutcheson and his crew will eventually have to answer, Nance says.

"They've got a long road ahead of them," she says. "They better get ready to see us."

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