Former sheriff, others face wrongful death suit
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — A mentally ill Tennessee man being held in the Mississippi County Jail died in May 2017 after then-Sheriff Cory Hutcheson and a team of law enforcement officers punched and tackled him and pushed “real hard” on the man’s neck, a lawsuit alleges.
Tory Sanders, 28, of Nashville died later the same night at a Sikeston, Missouri, hospital.
The suit was filed Monday in federal court in Cape Girardeau against Hutcheson, 10 county jailers and Charleston, Missouri, police officers, Mississippi County and the City of Charleston.
Mississippi County Presiding Commissioner Carlin Bennett declined to comment on the litigation Wednesday, citing advice from legal counsel.
The suit states jail administrator Sally Yanez applied pressure to Sanders’ neck, saw blood coming from his mouth and knew he had passed out.
Hutcheson pressed his left knee on top of the neck of Sanders. Charleston police officer Curtis Arnold told Hutcheson to let the pressure off Sanders’ neck at least three times, the suit states.
According to the suit, the sheriff responded, “No, I’m good.”
Hutcheson led a team of jailers and officers into Sanders’ cell May 5 at approximately 7:18 p.m. He applied pressure to the neck for at least 1 to 3 minutes after the man stopped moving, the suit alleges.
Wearing helmets and vests, and holding a large shield, a team of Charleston officers and eight county jailers, led by Hutcheson, rushed a shirtless Sanders, tackled him to the floor, punched him in the face and kneed him while attempting to place handcuffs and leg irons on him.
Police officer Arnold described the scene as a “dog pile,” the suit states.
“Mr. Sanders’ body went limp, and the officers and jailers secured him with handcuffs in front of his body and the leg cuffs were secured. Mr. Sanders was not resisting,” according to the suit.
At least one officer believed “Sanders was unconscious at this time,” the suit states.
After it was discovered Sanders was not breathing, “no lifesaving measures were taken,” the suit states.
It’s alleged several jailers and officers entered and left the holding cell from about 7:18 p.m. to 7:29 p.m.
Emergency medical personnel were called to the jail around 7:30 p.m. Sanders was transported to a Sikeston hospital. He died at 8:08 p.m., less than an hour after jailers and officers had tackled him, according to the suit.
The suit was filed by Sanders’ mother, Quinta Sanders, on behalf of the family, including her son’s nine children.
It seeks at least $20 million on six counts alleging civil-rights violations, false imprisonment and wrongful death.
The lawsuit comes more than a year after Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said evidence showed Sanders was Tased and pepper-sprayed while in custody.
Hutcheson already was facing criminal charges in an unrelated case at the time of the incident.
He faces identity theft charges for allegedly tracking the cellphones of a judge and law enforcement officers, including state troopers. He also faces a robbery charge as a result of a confrontation with a hair dresser.
Even though his law enforcement license had been suspended, Hutcheson participated in the actions against Sanders.
Chief deputy Branden Caid now is the acting Mississippi County sheriff while criminal proceedings are pending against Hutcheson.
The suit states Sanders was never under arrest and had sought out police in Charleston for help that morning, telling them there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Officers noted Sanders “was acting paranoid, displaying mood swings and believed that undercover officers and cameras were watching him.”
Sanders told officers, “I need to see a mental health doctor to save my life and my kids’ life,” the suit states.
Officers confirmed he had an outstanding warrant from out of state, but not for an extraditable offense.
He was taken to the Mississippi County Detention Center in Charleston. T.J. Feeler with Bootheel Counseling Services came to the jail to assess the mental health of Sanders.
The counselor concluded Sanders was suffering from paranoia as a result of “substance abuse,” the suit states.
Feeler told officers there were signs of “mental health issues.” The counselor subsequently concluded Sanders should be hospitalized for observation. It’s unknown whether the request for a 96-hour hold was ever sent to the court, according to the suit.
Surveillance video shows several confrontations with jailers during the day. Some of the jailers kicked the holding-cell door and tried to stun Sanders with a Taser, the suit states.
The suit alleges Sanders was taunted, Tased, pepper sprayed, beaten, punched and choked while “he was pleading for help and struggling to stay alive.”