Relatives of a Black man whose 2017 death in a Missouri jail contributed to a call by the NAACP for a travel boycott of Missouri have been offered $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit, court documents filed Wednesday reveal.
The Post-Dispatch reported earlier this month, after winning access to a court hearing, that the city of Charleston, Missouri, had agreed to a $500,000 settlement.
Now lawyers for Mississippi County jail employees and the former sheriff are asking a judge to force the family of Tory Sanders to accept $2 million to settle the rest of the case. In legal motions Wednesday, they said Sanders’ family had asked for $2 million and a state insurance fund agreed, but the family has now upped their demand to $3.5 million.
Sam Wendt, one of the lawyers for Sanders’ relatives, denied Thursday that there was any settlement pending. He said lawyers for the county had changed the terms of the deal by adding the former sheriff, Cory Hutcheson, to the settlement, and were simply trying to avoid paying out $1.5 million from a second insurance policy.
“We will be filing a robust response,” he vowed.
He called this week’s filings “much ado about nothing” and an attempt to influence a potential jury if the case were to go to trial.
Washington University law school’s First Amendment Clinic intervened on behalf of the Post-Dispatch to ensure that the hearing regarding the $500,000 settlement was not closed to the public, and is in the process of trying to unseal the settlement documents.
Wednesday’s court filings were not sealed, however.
The $500,000 is to be split among Sanders’ mother, Quinta Sanders; his wife, Summer Barrett; and nine children.
Sanders, who was from Nashville, died on May 5, 2017.
Sanders got lost on his way to Memphis and ended up at a Flying J truck stop in Charleston. He was acting paranoid, with mood swings and requests for mental help, and told police that he was bipolar and schizophrenic, the lawsuit says.
Police took Sanders to jail because they didn’t have enough staff to take him to the emergency room for a mental evaluation, the suit says.
Sanders’ mental condition declined and eventually the sheriff at the time, Hutcheson, and nine others entered his cell in an attempt to restrain him and retrieve a set of keys he’d snatched, according to a February report on his death from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office.
Three medical reports blamed the controversial diagnosis “excited delirium” for his death, including one by a doctor hired by Sanders’ family, the report says. Sanders had cocaine and methamphetamine in his system. Another doctor hired by the family said he died of “asphyxiation due to compression of his neck during forcible restraint by law enforcement.”
Schmitt’s office said there was not enough evidence to support a murder charge, and that too much time had passed to file any other charge. Former Attorney General Josh Hawley, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division also reviewed the case, the report said.
Sanders’ death was one of the factors that contributed to a 2017 NAACP travel advisory warning Black travelers “to beware of the safety concerns with travel in Missouri.”
Hutcheson was sentenced to six months in prison in 2019 after pleading guilty to wire fraud and identity theft charges in federal court in St. Louis. He admitted tracking the cellphones of a judge, a former sheriff and others in law enforcement.
Mississippi County is in southeast Missouri, about 130 miles southeast of St. Louis.