A mentally ill Tennessee man who was killed in a southeast Missouri jail lay limp on the floor while the elected sheriff and his top jailer squeezed his neck, a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court alleges.
A local cop saw the man had passed out and told the sheriff to ease up. The sheriff — already facing criminal charges in an unrelated case — wouldn't.
"No, I'm good," Sheriff Cory Hutcheson replied. He kept up the pressure up for as long as another three minutes.
That's all according to a new civil lawsuit filed yesterday by the family of Tory Sanders, who died shortly after the May 4, 2017 incident in the Mississippi County jail. His mother, Quinta Sanders, is suing Sheriff Hutcheson, along with the county, the city of Charleston and ten other county jailers and Charleston cops.
Sanders' death was the subject of a May 2017 RFT cover story
The family's wrongful death suit includes new details about Sanders' last hours, including the final confrontation when Hutcheson allegedly led a team of jailers and cops into his cell. Geared up with helmets and a body shield, they rushed a shirtless Sanders, tackled him to the ground and punched and kneed him in the face while they wrestled him into cuffs, the suit alleges.
Surveillance video had previously shown the defendants periodically tasing Sanders through a hole in the cell door and, once, blasting pepper spray into the cell.
Sanders, 28, of Nashville, ended up in the jail after a wrong turn landed him in the Bootheel. He was apparently suffering a severe mental health episode that only got worse as the day progressed.
But Sanders was never under arrest. In fact, he'd originally gone to police for help after he got lost, telling them he had a warrant out for his arrest in Tennessee.
They took him to the Mississippi County jail and ran his name. He did have a warrant, but it wasn't a severe enough charge to extradite him, so they planned to send him on his way. But the suit alleges Sanders was confused and upset, and he refused to leave. At one point, jailers found him crying in his cell, begging to know "what the real charges were," the suit says. He was assessed twice by a mental health counselor, who ultimately determined he was suffering an "acute psychiatric crisis" and should be placed on a 96-hour hold.
As that afternoon turned into the evening, Sanders grew frantic. A deputy sheriff, who is not a defendant in the suit, let him use his cell phone to talk to his mother. Quinta Sanders previously told the RFT
her son told her, "They're trying to kill me."
As the day went on, surveillance video shows multiple confrontations with jailers, some of whom kicked the door and tried to stun Sanders with a Taser. Shortly after 6 p.m., a jail staffer sprayed pepper spray into the cell and then went outside with other staffers for some fresh air.
Staffers considered a couple of different remedies, including leaving him alone on one end of the spectrum and stunning him with a "flash bang" on the other, the suit says.
Shortly after 7 p.m., Sheriff Hutcheson showed up with Jail Administrator Sally Yanez. Hutcheson was supposed to be on restricted duty. He had been charged with multiple crimes in unrelated cases
, and his law enforcement license had been suspended as a result. He had refused to step down from his job as sheriff, but with his license in question, he was supposed to be limited to administrative tasks only.
Instead, the suit alleges he took a lead role in a bumbling, deadly attempt to take down Sanders.
Hutcheson and eight others rushed in. One of the cops slipped and smacked his own head on the wall, the suit says. The others tackled their target onto a bunk and worked to wrestle him into handcuffs and leg irons. Hutcheson was near Sanders' upper body and repeatedly tried to tase him in the head, the suit says.
The group eventually toppled off the bunk onto the floor, pinning down Sanders until he went limp.
Jail administrator Sally Yanez had effectively choked Sanders out. She would later admit she pushed down "real hard" on his neck until he passed out, the suit says. Hutcheson is accused of jamming his knee against Sanders' neck while he kept his hand on the man's face.
A local cop involved in what he described as the "dog pile" reportedly recognized that Sanders was already out and told Hutcheson three times to ease up on the man's neck. But the lawman kept the pressure on, even as up to three minutes passed, the suit says.
They eventually rolled Sanders onto his back. By then, he was not moving. From 7:18 p.m. to 7:29 p.m., multiple jailers and cops went in and out of the cell but nobody administered CPR, the suit says.
EMTs arrived at 7:32 p.m. and rolled his body out on a stretcher at 7:36 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 8:08 p.m.
Three medical examiners would later attribute his death to "excited delirium." It's a controversial diagnosis. It tends to pop up in police-custody deaths of people who are mentally ill or on drugs, but it is not recognized as an actual condition by American Medical Association, American Psychological Association or World Health Organization.
Sanders' family had hoped Hutcheson and others would face criminal charges. Attorney Josh Hawley investigated the death but announced in March
that he would not pursue murder charges against anyone involved. (He hasn't filed any lesser charges, either.)
Read Also: Sheriff Cory Hutcheson Vowed to Clean Up His Rural Missouri County. Now He's the One Facing Prison
Quinta Sanders filed the suit on behalf of the family, including her son's nine children. They're seeking a minimum of $20 million on six counts, alleging civil rights violations, false imprisonment and wrongful death.
The suit alleges that after Sanders was wheeled away, the sheriff had Yanez retrieve an encrypted hard drive from his office, and then gave her $60 to buy a cell phone SIM card so they could text privately.
He also told others involved not to speak to investigators and assured Yanez if she went to jail, he would help get her out, the suit says.
Hutcheson previously denied any wrongdoing and declined to comment on the latest suit.
He is facing state and federal identity theft charges
for allegedly tracking the cell phones of a judge, the former sheriff and state troopers. He is also facing a state robbery charge after a confrontation with an elderly hairdresser.
His deputy has since been appointed acting sheriff.
The jail, which Hutcheson ran as the administrator before he was elected sheriff, has also been a source of trouble. Mississippi County and Charleston settled a lawsuit for $270,000
with the family of a young mother who died of an overdose in her cell as jailers mocked her.
The Sanders suit references that suit and multiple other incidents at the jail.
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