Mississippi congressman asking for investigation into death ‘equal to the George Floyd situation’

Published 1:35 pm Monday, May 10, 2021

By Jerry Mitchell

Mississippi Center For Investigative Reporting

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson is asking the Justice Department to investigate the 2018 jail death of Robert Loggins in Grenada.

“No question it’s equal to the George Floyd situation,” he said, alluding to the 2020 death of Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Asked if the Justice Department had begun to investigate, Acting U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner of Oxford responded, “We cannot comment on any investigation.”

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Calls for an investigation came after the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting published a video of Loggins’ death inside the jail on Nov. 29, 2018. The video shows Loggins slowly rolling when officers get on top of him inside the Grenada County Jail, with one officer appearing to kneel on his neck and sit on his head.

Three and a half minutes later, they got off him. The 26-year-old never moved again. More than six minutes passed before anyone checked his conditions — only to discover he had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.

Despite that discovery, another four and a half minutes passed before anyone conducted any CPR.

Authorities ruled the death an accident, blaming the methamphetamine he took, but renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden concluded the death was a homicide, saying the methamphetamine was not a fatal amount. “They killed him by piling on top of him,” he said. “He absolutely died from some kind of asphyxia.”

A Mississippi Bureau of Investigation concluded no foul play was involved in Loggins’ death. Officers have yet to respond to the litigation, but they denied in interviews with MBI that they had done anything wrong.

Loggins’ wife, Rika Jones, the administrator for his estate, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against those involved, accusing them of causing her husband’s wrongful death.

“The wrongdoing that culminated in Robert Loggins’ untimely death is difficult to watch but plain to see,” said the family’s attorney, Jacob Jordan of the Tannehill, Carmean & McKenzie law firm in Oxford. “The family appreciates the increasing number of calls for justice and reform in his wake.”

Thompson requested the Justice Department investigation after reading MCIR’s story and viewing the video.

“It is unacceptable that Mr. Loggins’ last moments were met with unnecessary suffering and pain at the hands of Grenada County law enforcement officials,” he wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland. “As a representative of this community, I request a complete and thorough investigation of the causes and circumstances surrounding the untimely death of Mr. Loggins.”

The Grenada City Council and Mississippi’s Legislative Black Caucus have also called for an independent investigation by the Justice Department.

Back in 1995, the department, along with the International Chiefs of Police, warned law enforcement officials that keeping people restrained in the prone position increased the risk of death from asphyxia. “As soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach,” the report urged.

If the person must be kept in the prone position, that person “should be closely and continuously monitored,” the report said.

Applying weight to someone’s back adds to that risk, the report said. The more weight, the more risk. Drugs and alcohol also add to the risk.

In his book, Evaluating Police Uses of Force, co-author Seth Stoughton warns twice, “DO NOT PUT YOUR KNEE ON THE SUSPECT’S NECK OR SPINE.”

He said it’s even more well established to not do this while someone is handcuffed, but that is what has continued to happen in policing across the U.S.

The city of Minneapolis paid $3 million to settle litigation involving the 2010 death of 28-year-old David Smith, who suffered from mental illness and died after officers used a Taser on him and held him face down on the floor. One officer kept a knee on Smith’s back even after he stopped speaking.

As a part of that settlement, the city agreed to include additional training to avoid positional asphyxiation, but that training failed to prevent continued use of these techniques by officers.

In 2020, four Minneapolis officers kneeled on the handcuffed George Floyd, including then-officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck more than nine minutes. The city of Minneapolis has already agreed to pay $27 million to settle a civil lawsuit from Floyd’s family.

A jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and he faces sentencing later this year.

On Friday, a federal grand jury charged Chauvin and the three other former officers with depriving Floyd of his civil rights.

A second indictment accuses Chauvin of depriving a teenager of his civil rights in 2017 by kneeling on his neck and upper back after he was handcuffed and in the prone position for nearly 17 minutes. Chauvin also reportedly held the minor by the throat, struck him with a flashlight and ignored complaints from the teen that he couldn’t breathe.

The Justice Department is now investigating whether Minneapolis police have engaged in the continued practice of excessive force.

In Mississippi, four police officers in Southaven pinned Troy Goode down, handcuffed him and called for an ambulance. His wife, Kelli, described multiple officers “on top of him with their knees in his back.” He died after being kept hogtied in the prone position for 90 minutes.

Authorities blamed LSD toxicity for his 2015 death, but an independent autopsy by a pathologist hired by the family concluded that he died from “positional asphyxia.”

Authorities tried to have the case dismissed, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “hog-tying a drug-affected person in a state of drug-induced psychosis and placing him face down in a prone position for an extended period constitutes excessive force.”

The trial is set for July 12 in Oxford before U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills.

Chris Vignes, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers’ Training Academy “does teach on the dangers of positional asphyxia.”

The academy doesn’t teach “any form of neck restraint, including chokeholds, as a force option; however, we do expose students to neck restraints for familiarization,” he said. “This exposure gives them insight into how to defeat a chokehold position.”

In 2016, Dallas police officers handcuffed Tony Timpa. One of the officers put his knee on Timpa’s upper back for 14 minutes while he lay prone, and he stopped breathing, according to court records.

The medical examiner blamed cocaine use and “the physiological stress associated with physical restraint,” concluding that due to “his prone position and physical restraint by an officer, an element of mechanical or positional asphyxia cannot be ruled out,” according to court records.

In 2017, Jonathan Salcido, who was experiencing a psychotic episode, died after officers from the Whittier Police Department in California piled on top of him while he was handcuffed and in the prone position. His mother had called police to get her son to a hospital. The city paid $1.9 million to the family.

Last month, Mario Gonzalez, who appeared to be under the influence, died after police officers in Alameda, California, pinned him to the ground for more than five minutes.

The bodycam video shows one officer keeping his knee in Gonzalez’s back.

Over the past decade, there have been 157 asphyxiation deaths in police custody, according to fatalencounters.org.

Stoughton, who trains officers, said far too many are failing to do “what decades of training tells them they should be doing—taking secured subjects out of the prone position at the earliest opportunity.”

Changing that behavior requires “a clear policy that directs officers to take handcuffed subjects out of the prone position as quickly as possible, even if the subject is still not fully compliant,” he said. “Officers must be actively trained on that policy—rather than just signing an acknowledgment form that they received it—so that they actually understand it.”

Prosecutors who review in-custody deaths should educate themselves about positional asphyxia, and if officers “acted with gross negligence or recklessness that might meet the threshold for criminal prosecution under governing law,” he said, they “should be prosecuted.”

Baden said most, if not all, of the deaths in police custody attributed to “excited delirium” are “really deaths due to restraint asphyxia in my experience.” A 2020 review of these delirium cases raised questions about this cause of death, concluding that these cases were fatal mostly in aggressive forms of police restraint.

Jerry Mitchell is an investigative reporter for the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that is exposing wrongdoing, educating and empowering Mississippians, and raising up the next generation of investigative reporters. Sign up for MCIR’s newsletters here.