A federal judge rejected the claim that Grenada police officers should be protected by qualified immunity in the 2018 death of Robert Loggins in the local jail.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock moves the case one step closer to trial in Mississippi.
“The court’s decision is an important milestone in the family’s quest for justice, and they are prepared to fight for as long as it takes,” said Jacob Jordan of the Levy Konigsberg LLP law firm, the attorney for Loggins’ family.
A video obtained by the Mississippi Center of Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today shows Loggins rolling when officers and jailers piled on top of him inside the Grenada County Jail. It also shows officer kneeling on his neck.
Three and a half minutes later, they got off of him. He never moved again. More than six minutes passed before anyone checked his pulse or breathing.
Despite that, the state of Mississippi concluded Loggins’ death was an “accident.” The alleged culprit? Methamphetamine toxicity.
After viewing the video as well as the autopsy report and the photos, renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden concluded the death was a homicide. “They killed him by piling on top of him,” he said. “He absolutely died from some kind of asphyxia.”
Loggins’ death came two years before the 2020 murder of George Floyd. All the officers who played a role in Floyd’s homicide were fired and convicted on criminal charges.
Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck, was sentenced to two decades behind bars. Three other officers were each sentenced to between two and a half and three and a half years in prison, including one officer who kept bystanders away.
The Grenada officer who kneeled on Loggins’ neck has never faced any criminal charges, nor has any other officer.
Baden considers the officers’ actions in the Loggins’ case much worse. “The intentional brutality inflicted on Loggins,” he said, “who was in an acute mental crisis, having done nothing criminal, makes his death — and many, many others — so much more criminal than Floyd’s.”
Baden compared the Loggins’ case to the Jan. 10 death of Tyre Nichols, whom five Memphis police officers pepper-sprayed, kicked, punched and shocked with a Taser. A grand jury has indicted the now-fired officers on second-degree murder and other charges.
The pathologist said Loggins’ death is “more typical of the thousands of police custody deaths of unarmed persons that have occurred without much notice.”
Since 2000, at least 342 deaths have taken place across the country after police restrained people, according to FatalEncounters.org. Many of those deaths were due to asphyxia.
In some of those deaths, officers used restraints condemned by the U.S. Department of Justice. The agency, along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, warned officers that keeping restrained people face down increases the risk of death from asphyxia.
“As soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach,” the memo advises.
At 5:40 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2018, a woman in Grenada telephoned 911, saying, “Someone’s in the back of my house calling for help. Please hurry.”
Five members of the Grenada Police Department responded: Capt. Justin Gammage, Sgt. Reggie Woodall, Cpl. Edwin Merriman, Patrolman Michael Jones and Patrolman Albert Deane Tilley.
They found a Black man face down with his arms tucked beneath his body. One officer recognized Loggins, who had battled both mental issues and a drug problem.
“Although Loggins was likely guilty of trespassing and disturbing the peace, there is no real contention that he had committed any offense more serious than those,” the judge wrote. “In fact, according to the call to Grenada Police Department, Loggins was screaming for help, which would undercut any argument that he was attempting to commit some sort of serious crime under cover of night.”
In bodycam footage obtained by MCIR, officers repeatedly asked Loggins to put his hands behind his back. He refused.
“My soul belongs to Jesus Christ, my savior, my protector,” he told officers.
“Your ass belongs to us now,” one of them replied.
The judge concluded that “any fears the officers may have had must have subsided quickly. Loggins was screaming incoherently, never attempted to exert any force against them, never brandished a weapon and never even threatened to harm them.”
She wrote that Loggins refused to put his hands behind his back, which may have been because he was in an altered state.
Gammage and Woodall shocked Loggins with a Taser at least 10 times, and Woodall struck Loggins with a flashlight nine times — a degree of force that “was not justifiable under the circumstances,” the judge wrote.
After handcuffing the 5-foot-8, 190-pound man, officers carried him to a carport, where a report by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation claims that “Loggins’ disorderly behavior” kept emergency personnel from conducting “a full medical assessment.”
But bodycam video paints a different picture. As officers carry Loggins, an EMT can be heard saying, “He looks fine to me.”
Jail video shows that at 5:59 a.m. officers carried Loggins upside down into the lobby of the jail. They left him face down on the floor, handcuffed.
He seemed to be in distress, rolling from side to side, the shift supervisor, Sgt. Edna Clark, told the investigations bureau. “To me, he was trying to gasp for breath because he couldn’t breathe.”
She said she asked officers to take Loggins to the hospital but was waved off.
After Tilley reportedly said he needed his handcuffs back, at least four officers and jailers piled on top of Loggins at 6:04 a.m. to remove the cuffs from his wrists, the video shows. When they got off Loggins more than three minutes later, he didn’t move.
Clark noticed that he was bleeding and called 911. The dispatcher replied that EMTs had previously checked him.
“He’s bleeding from his mouth. He’s bleeding from his legs,” she told the dispatcher. “I’m not going to take him.”
At 6:14 a.m., Clark checked Loggins’ pulse and his breathing. She called 911 again.
“This man has got no heartbeat, and he’s not breathing. I want them officers back over here. I want an ambulance,” she said. “Get them over here now.”
A few minutes later, medical personnel arrived. They pounded on Loggins’ chest hoping to revive him, and when they couldn’t, they airlifted him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
In 2020, Loggins’ wife, Rika Jones, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, accusing the officers of assault and the medical personnel and the private jail operator of failing to provide him with proper medical treatment.
Tilley’s lawyer insists his client didn’t cause Loggins’ death or act with excessive force and is shielded by qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that says government workers can’t be held liable for what they do on the job, except in rare circumstances.
Other officers have also denied any wrongdoing, insisting that Loggins’ constitutional rights were never violated.
The judge, however, disagreed, concluding that officers used “excessive force” and weren’t entitled to immunity from litigation.
In its response, the private jail operator, Corrections Management Services, said its staff acted in good faith, with Clark advising police “multiple times that Loggins would not be accepted into the jail and that he needed medical attention.” Medical personnel have denied the suit’s allegations of failure to provide proper treatment.
When Loggins died, he was 26 — seven years younger than his mother was when she died.
Debbie Loggins died in police custody after being hogtied, another restraint that the Justice Department has condemned.
The late pathologist who conducted her autopsy, Dr. Steven Hayne, ruled out trauma, drugs and alcohol, concluding that she died because of advanced heatstroke, even though the sun hadn’t risen when she was arrested, the temperature was in the 70s, and officers transported her in an air-conditioned car.
Instead, Hayne — whose autopsies have been called into question — concluded her death was an accident, blaming her “excessive exertional activity.”
Loggins’ father, Robert Ford, still passes by the jail where his son breathed his last. Sometimes, he stops outside and thinks about his son.
He believes his son deserves justice. “He was murdered,” he said. “You can see it in the video.”