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Investigators: Questions surround Mississippi man’s death in police custody as lawsuit is filed

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 9:55 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A new lawsuit is shining light on how a Mid-South man died in police custody.

Robert Loggins, 26, died inside the Grenada County Jail Nov. 29, 2018 and his death was ruled accidental by the state medical examiner’s office.

Jailhouse video, officer interviews and a lawsuit are now calling into question how Loggins died and why.

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Before Loggins died in police custody, officers responded to his cries for help in a homeowner’s backyard. A neighbor dialed 911 early that morning because she heard someone shouting for help outside.

Body camera footage shows Grenada police officers searched for the source of the cries, which eventually led them to Loggins face down in a backyard with his hands under his body.

“My soul goes to Jesus Christ!” Loggins is heard saying.

“Hey, take your hands from up under you,” orders one officer.

“He’s my savior!” Loggins said.

“Your a** belongs to us now,” said an officer.

“My protector,” said Loggins.

“Get ‘em up under you. Take your hands from up under you now,” said an officer.

When Loggins did not comply with officers’ commands he was repeatedly shot with a taser.

Officers struggled to handcuff Loggins for an additional four minutes before they restrained his hands behind his back.

The video captured one officer saying, “He on somethin’.”

The officers later told state investigators they believed Loggins was on drugs because they knew him personally -- some of them since he was a child.

“This wasn’t a newcomer or someone they didn’t know. He had a history of drug issues, a history of mental issues,” said Jerry Mitchell with the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

Mitchell wrote about Loggins after a source provided videos and documents related to his death. Mitchell then provided that material to the WMC Action News 5 Investigators.

“What did you think when you saw this video?” we asked.

“I thought it reminded me a lot of George Floyd,” Mitchell said because of what happened once Loggins arrived at the jail.

Three officers are seen on video carrying Loggins into the jail lobby and placing him on the floor in the prone position -- on his stomach -- with his hands still cuffed behind his back.

The video has no sound but it shows police and correctional officers moving in to restrain Loggins while they put on a new set of handcuffs.

One police officer can be seen kneeling on Loggins’ neck for about a minute while Loggins is face down. He then sits on Loggins’ head for another two minutes.

We then see the police officers leave and the correctional officers pick up Loggins, who can’t stand.

“He’s not moving and proves to be lifeless,” said Dr. Michael Baden, the former New York City Chief Medical Examiner.

Baden watched the video and believes Loggins died from positional asphyxiation.

“It’s when there’s forcefully putting the arms together so that the chest doesn’t move up and down as freely or, more important, when there’s pressure put on the back,” he said.

A 1995 Department of Justice memo states that the prone position can cause “sudden in-custody death,” especially if pressure is applied to the subject’s back.

FatalEncounters.org tracks the number of people who have died while in police custody. Its database shows at least 157 people have died of asphyxiation while being restrained in police custody over the last 10 years.

Baden says if Loggins stopped breathing during the three minutes the officers were on his back and neck, he may have survived if CPR was performed right away.

“In this instance, was not done right away,” said Baden.

The video then shows the jailers dragging Loggins back to a holding cell, but they reverse course and bring Loggins back to the lobby and put him on the floor.

He remains there -- not moving -- for six minutes until the sergeant in charge checks his pulse. Two minutes later, she dials 911.

“I need an ambulance now at the Grenada County Jail now!” she said. “This man has no heartbeat and he’s not breathing. I want them officers back over here and I want an ambulance here.”

No correctional officers are seen on video performing CPR on Loggins.

Two minutes later, EMTs arrive and they eventually begin chest compressions.

Loggins never regained consciousness.

The Mississippi Medical Examiner ruled Loggins’ death an accident and the cause as methamphetamine toxicity.

Baden has reviewed the report.

“The methamphetamine he had his body, in my opinion, was very low and was not a lethal level for a person who has been exposed to drugs of abuse in the past,” he said.

The day after Loggins’ death, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation interviewed the officer seen kneeling on Loggins’ neck.

“Were you sitting on Mr. Loggins?” the MBI investigator asked.

“No, sir,” said the Grenada police officer.

“Was your knee on his neck or his head?” asked the investigator.

“Not to my recollection, no sir. I don’t believe it was,” the officer said.

“When you don’t believe, either you were or were not,” said the MBI.

“No sir, I was not. I was not on his head,” said the officer.

The other police officers at the jail were interviewed and shared similar recollections.

“Was anybody sitting on Mr. Loggins’s head or neck area?” asked the MBI.

“He never put pressure on his neck or head,” said another officer.

“Did you see anybody sit on his head or his neck?” asked the MBI.

“May-I can’t remember. I can’t remember,” said a third officer.

Some of the jailers, however, did remember.

“So he actually stood up, turned around and sat down on his head to take the restraints off,” one jailer told the MBI.

“One of them on the Grenada Police Department. sat right here on the back of his neck,” said another jailer.

Loggins’ leaves behind a young daughter. The child’s mother is now suing the police officers, correctional officers and others she believes are responsible for his death, which was caught on camera.

“Was it hard to watch the video?” we asked.

“It is hard to watch from the perspective of you see a man who’s very much alive and then 3.5 minutes later, somebody who looks lifeless,” said Mitchell. “He is just lifeless. He doesn’t move. Not a bit and nobody comes to help him.”

The Mississippi Black Caucus has asked the Department of Justice and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to investigate Loggins’ death. We asked each agency if they plan on investigating but have not heard back.

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators also reached out to the defendants listed in the lawsuit but have not heard back.

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