CHARLESTON, Mo. (AP) — Relatives of a Black man from Tennessee who died in a Missouri jail in 2017 have been asked to accept $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit, court filings show, but the family’s attorney says no settlement is pending.
The city of Charleston, Missouri, agreed earlier this month to pay $500,000 to the family of Tony Sanders, of Nashville, who died in the Mississippi County Jail after a white sheriff pinned his neck to the ground with his knee for several minutes.
Now lawyers for Mississippi County jail employees and the former sheriff are asking a judge to require Sanders’ family to accept $2 million to settle the rest of the case, according to court documents.
The attorneys said in motions filed Wednesday that a state insurance fund had agreed to the Sanders family’s request for $2 million but that the family has increased its demands to $3.5 million, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
An attorney for Sanders’ relatives, Sam Wendt, said Thursday that no settlement was pending. He said the county’s lawyers changed the terms of the deal by adding the former sheriff, Cory Hutcheson, to the settlement. He said the county was trying to avoid paying $1.5 million from a second insurance policy.
Wendt said this week’s filings were “much ado about nothing” and an attempt to influence a jury if the case went to trial.
The lawsuit said Sanders was suffering from mental health issues when he got lost in May 2017 on his way to Memphis and wound up at a truck stop in Charleston. Police took Sanders to jail because they didn’t have enough staff to take him to the emergency room for a mental evaluation.
Eventually, the sheriff at the time, Hutcheson, and nine others went into the cell, and Sanders was tackled, pepper sprayed, shocked with a stun gun and beaten, according to the lawsuit.
Sanders’ family says Hutcheson pressed his left knee into Sanders’ neck and kept it there for up to three minutes, even as a police officer urged him to stop. Missouri’s previous and current attorneys general both investigated Sanders’ death but declined to bring charges.
Sanders’ death was one reason the NAACP in 2017 issued an advisory warning Black travelers “to beware of the safety concerns” in Missouri.”
Hutcheson was later sentenced to six months in federal prison for the unrelated crimes of wire fraud and identity theft for using a fraudulent process to track the whereabouts of more than 200 cellphone users, including a judge and a former sheriff. He resigned after pleading guilty and can no longer work in law enforcement.
Mississippi County is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) southeast of St. Louis.