Within hours of his call to 911 outside a convenience store, Sterling Higgins lay dead, after video shows him being forcibly restrained on the floor at the Obion County Jail in Union City, Tennessee.
A surveillance camera video from that morning, 15 months ago, shows a correctional officer gripping Higgins’ neck and head for nearly six minutes, and part of that time his arresting officer with one foot on him. Then, Higgins’ limp body was dragged to a restraint chair and wheeled into a cell.
The video, submitted in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal district court in Tennessee, is at the heart of a claim that yet another black man needlessly died in custody because of law enforcement misconduct. All the defendants have denied the allegations in legal filings.
Those videos were never shown to a grand jury that, last October, declined to indict any of the officers involved, as first reported by WSPD, in Paducah, Kentucky. The 27th District attorney general, Tommy Thomas, told CNN he didn’t see the need to show jurors the video because he already had decided not to seek criminal charges against the officers.
He said that while he doesn’t believe the officers handled the situation correctly, “that’s a long way from being criminally responsible for a homicide.”
Edwin Budge, a Seattle-based attorney representing Higgins’ estate, said the videos are crucial evidence and that the grand jury “should have been provided with those facts; and now it’s our job as civil attorneys to bring these facts to light.”
Higgins’s death raises questions not only about the events of that night, and the officers’ use of force, but also about police training and practices in how to handle people behaving bizarrely or who seem to be mentally distressed.