CHARLESTON — A lawsuit alleging that Mississippi County jail employees tased, pepper-sprayed, beat, terrorized, punched, kneed, dog-piled and choked a detainee suffering from a psychotic episode while he was pleading for help and struggling to stay alive was filed in federal court Nov. 5.
Seeking $20 million in damages, Quinta Sanders claims the defendants violated her son Tory D. Sanders' civil rights when he was taken into custody at the county jail on May 5, 2017, the day he died in a holding cell.
According to the lawsuit, Sanders was taken into custody at a Flying J station in Charleston after an encounter with police at 9:41 a.m. in which he wanted to turn himself in for a federal warrant on gun charges. Police later learned there was a warrant on Sanders, but not for guns.
During his encounter with officers he told them he needed help and asked to speak to a "mental doctor" for a "mental evaluation," the lawsuit says.
After he was taken into custody at the Mississippi County Detention Center at approximately 10:14 a.m., an officer requested a mental evaluation, which concluded that he was suffering from paranoia, that he reported using "a lot" of cocaine, alcohol and marijuana six hours prior and had been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, the lawsuit adds.
The counselor noted that in the previous 30 days, Sanders suffered from hallucinations, delusions, illusions and persistent stomach pain and was disoriented to person, time and place, according to the lawsuit.
The counselor also determined that Sanders was not a threat to himself or to others and because he did not meet criteria for hospitalization, it was determined that he would be released, the lawsuit says.
After he was told he would be released, Sanders began crying in his holding cell demanding to know "what the real charges were," it says.
He began becoming aggravated and belligerent, the suit says.
By 4 p.m., the counselor had returned and attempted to speak to Sanders through the holding cell door, but was unable because he was yelling, "people were trying to kill him," pleading and banging on his cell door and refusing to speak to anyone. He was determined to be suffering an acute psychiatric crisis and paperwork was to be prepared so that he could be placed on a 96-hour hold for mental health evaluation and treatment at the Poplar Bluff Medical Center, according to the lawsuit.
The suit claims that video surveillance of his holding cell shows officers approach the door pointing a taser at Sanders, which was deployed multiple times.
At 6:12 p.m., while Sanders was in a manic state, beating on the inside of the cell door and yelling "help," officers deployed pepper spray, which had been expired, into the cell. The officers went outside to get fresh air, leaving Sanders without medical attention, the suit says.
At 7:18 p.m. officers, including one whose license was suspended, rushed into his cell wearing helmets, vests and holding a large shield, according to the lawsuit.
From that point, he was tasered, struck by an officer's knee in the upper torso, struck in the face with a closed fist six or seven times, handcuffed, and leg cuffed, the suit says.
"Mr. Sanders was screaming ‘Stop’ and that they were trying to kill him,” the suit states. “Defendant Ross grabbed Mr. Sanders’ legs, causing him and Mr. Sanders to fall to the ground ‘with a large number of people laying on top of’ Mr. Sanders. Defendant Arnold described the scene as a ‘dog pile.’ Mr. Sanders was laying on his left side, twisted at the hip, with both of his shoulders on the ground," it says.
“Defendant Matney was lying across Mr. Sanders’ mid-section. 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.”
One of the officers believed he was unconscious, but he was still being held down.
“At the direction of Defendant Arnold, Defendant Yanez started applying pressure to Mr. Sanders’ neck and Mr. Sanders’ closed his eyes and passed out,” the suit states. “Defendant Yanez observed blood coming from Mr. Sanders’ mouth. Defendant Yanez admitted to pushing 'real hard' against Mr. Sanders’ neck until she knew he was passed out," the suit says.
“Defendant Arnold told Defendant Hutcheson to let the pressure off Mr. Sanders’ ‘neck at least three times and Defendant Hutcheson responded ‘No, I’m good.’”
The suit states that after it was discovered that Sanders was not breathing, no life saving measures were taken.
Mr. Sanders was pronounced dead at 8:08 p.m., and the manner of death was listed as homicide, “likely due to excited delirium syndrome.”
The Wendt Law Firm in Kansas City and Law Office of Michael G. Hoskins in Nashville represent the plaintiff, who is seeking compensatory damages for aggravating circumstances and punitive damages of at least $20 million.