Black man Sterling Higgins died after being restrained in jail
Black man is ‘gripped by the neck with extreme pressure’ by a white cop while another ‘STANDS on his body’ in Tennessee jail shortly before the suspect’s death – as his family launches $10million lawsuit
- WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
- Sterling Higgins, 37, was allegedly left struggling to breathe in a jail hallway
- Surveillance footage shows one cop appearing to stand on Higgins’s body
- Higgins – who called 911 for help before being arrested – died soon afterwards
- His family is seeking $10million in damages but the officers deny wrongdoing
A black man who called 911 for help ended up dead in police custody with footage showing how he was pinned down with ‘extreme pressure’ in a Tennessee jail.
Sterling Higgins, 37, was gripped by the neck and left struggling to breathe as officers restrained him in a jail hallway, his family says.
Surveillance footage from the Union City jail shows one of the cops appearing to ‘literally begin standing on top of Mr Higgins’ body’.
Higgins died an hour after being admitted to the Union City jail in March last year, his family says in a lawsuit which is seeking $10million in damages for his death.
The lawsuit accuses cops of ‘forcing him to endure extreme and needless pain and suffering and causing his death’, but the officers deny wrongdoing and they were cleared by an earlier investigation.
The case is the latest black death in custody to return to the spotlight following the death of George Floyd, who was pinned down for nearly nine minutes by a white cop kneeling on his neck before he died in Minneapolis on May 25.
Sterling Higgins, 37, was gripped by the neck and left struggling to breathe as officers restrained him in a jail hallway in Tennessee, his family says
Higgins had called for help from a convenience store after claiming someone was trying to kill him and steal his money, the lawsuit says.
His family says it should have been ‘clear to any reasonable police officer that he was mentally impaired’ because he was speaking incoherently and showing signs of paranoia.
However, he was subsequently arrested on a criminal trespass charge after a worker at the store called 911 and said that Higgins had returned to the shop.
He arrived at the jail shortly before 2am and starting running around the patrol car in a display of ‘illogical and paranoid behavior’ which attorneys say made him ‘unfit for confinement’.
Once inside, he grappled with a female officer and pulled her hair – prompting cops to pull him to the floor and handcuff him behind his back.
At this point he ‘posed no further threat’, the lawsuit says, but officer Waylon Spaulding allegedly ‘used his hands to firmly grip Mr Higgins neck or throat, applying extreme pressure in such a way that impaired [his] ability to breathe’.
Another officer, Robert Orsborne, then ‘walked over and literally began standing on top of Mr Higgins’s body’ while Spaulding continued to ‘forcefully grip’ his neck.
Surveillance footage from the Union City jail shows one of the cops appearing to ‘literally begin standing on top of Mr Higgins’ body’
The ‘limp’ Higgins was dragged across the corridor and into a restraint chair after being pinned down on the floor. He died around an hour later
The lawsuit alleges that ‘the collective force then being used on Mr Higgins was clearly excessive and posed an immediate and substantial danger to Mr Higgins.’
This continues for several minutes before a ‘restraint chair’ is brought into the hallway and the ‘limp’ Higgins is dragged across the corridor and into the chair.
The officers allegedly failed to summon medical help at first despite the fact that Higgins had ‘white foam emanating from his mouth or nose’ and was in ‘dire need of immediate medical attention’.
After he was dragged into the chair and moved into a cell, it was around another 15 minutes before medics finally arrived and Higgins was taken to hospital.
He died at Baptist Memorial Hospital shortly before 3am, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit accuses the officers of causing ‘extreme physical pain and suffering, severe mental anguish, and death’ – saying Higgins’s minor children were left without a father.
Both Obion County and Union City are also accused of of liability for ‘unconstitutional policies and customs’ leading to Higgins’s death.
After Higgins was dragged into the chair and moved into a cell, it was around another 15 minutes before medics finally arrived and Higgins was taken to hospital where he died
All of the defendants have denied any wrongdoing.
In a handwritten statement, officer Spaulding said he had restrained Higgins after the suspect had tried to spit at him.
‘I put my hand under inmate Higgins’s chin in an attempt to keep him from spitting on any other officers,’ he said.
Orsborne told investigators that he put a foot on Higgins’s leg and then stood on the leg shackles to restrain him.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has previously determined that none of the officers involved were responsible for Higgins’ death.
An autopsy declared his cause of death as excited delirium due to a methamphetamine overdose.
However, the autopsy also noted that Higgins had suffered multiple blunt force injuries including damage to his head, neck and torso.
None of the officers in the video were placed on administrative leave.
Spaulding was promoted in December 2019, eight months after Higgins’s death, from jailer to deputy.
Obion County Jail said they could not comment on Mr Higgins’s death or the officers involved due to ongoing litigation.
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