By Verbal Adam | OBSERVER Correspondent

Sherrano Stingley’s mother, Annette Hilburn
Sherrano Stingley’s mother, Annette Hilburn, is comforted by her granddaughter Dymin as she recounts her experience visiting her son in the hospital. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

A 48-year-old Sacramento man died Dec. 16, just 10 days after an encounter with law enforcement left him on life support, his family said.

Attorney Mark Merin has filed a civil rights claim on behalf of the family of Sherrano Stingley against former Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones and other unknown personnel for use of excessive force, unreasonable medical care, assault/battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The claim is the precursor of a federal civil rights suit which will be filed in 45 days.

Questions are swirling about just what happened to Stingley, who was arrested Dec. 6 and charged with attempted burglary, resisting executive officers, prowling on property of another and battery of a peace officer. His family insists he was in the midst of a mental health crisis at the time of the arrest.

The sheriff’s office said it has no evidence that deputies used excessive force. Merin accused the department of a cover-up.

“You can tell that Mr. Stingley was unarmed, he was obviously distressed, he was no threat and yet he ended up dead,” Merin said at a press conference Wednesday. “What we’ve seen so far is one edited video that shows only a part of the story. What we haven’t seen is, what was the sheriff officer doing who was at Mr. Stingley’s head? He didn’t just die of heart failure. He didn’t die of some kind of a preexisting condition. He died because he was killed right there, he was suffocated, he was struck.”

Stingley’s mother, Annette Hilburn, told the press of her experience. “When we came to Sacramento and went where my son was at, a sergeant came up to me and told me my son was laughing and talking in the hospital. I rushed to the hospital, my son was not talking and laughing, and they had a smile on their face.

Attorney Mark Merin
Attorney Mark Merin lays out the suit filed on behalf of the Stingley family accusing the sheriff’s office of negligence, excessive force and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

“They need to pay for what they did to my son.”

The sheriff’s office has maintained the arresting deputies did nothing wrong. However, as accusations of excessive force in Stingley’s arrest mount, so do videos and photos that add weight to the claims.

On the Black Lives Matter Facebook page, photos appear to show wounds on Stingley’s palm and neck that the Stingley family said are from being tased. At the end of the bodycam video, a discharged taser is seen being looked at by deputies.

Stingley’s daughter Dymin wants justice for her father.

“He got down and his hands were behind his head, and they were still striking him,” she said. He never hit anybody or wrestled anybody to the floor at all. [Deputies] sentenced him to death and y’all didn’t even know if he [was] guilty. He was not guilty at all.”

“(This is) another example of cruel and inhuman vicious treatment by callous sheriff deputies against an obviously mentally ill Black man in Sacramento who needed care and treatment instead of brutal deadly force,” said Tanya Faison, executive director of Sacramento Black Lives Matter, which is supporting the Stingley family’s quest for justice.

In death, Stingley has become the latest example in the debate over excessive police treatment of Black men — an example made even more searing, some say, in a city that just swore in its first Black sheriff, former Assemblymember Jim Cooper on Dec. 16.

“The Greater Sacramento NAACP is disappointed in the lack of response from our new sheriff, Jim Cooper, regarding this incident. It’s my hope that we have a dialogue soon.” said Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is calling for an independent investigation into the incident.

Dymin Stingley
Dymin Stingley painfully recounts the arrest of her father as she’s comforted by family. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

The sheriff’s office released body cam footage Dec. 8 showing the arrest of Stingley from the lead deputy’s point of view. Another video shows deputies questioning Stingley’s daughter. The family isn’t satisfied and has made a formal request for the release of the other deputies’ bodycam videos.

Sgt. Amar Gandhi, the sheriff’s public information officer, told The OBSERVER that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office cannot comment on a pending investigation.

Black Lives Matter released a statement: “Mr. Stingley was unarmed, shoeless and obviously in crisis when the deputies confronted him, although he attempted to comply with directions, the deputies immediately escalated the force they employed, preventing him from breathing, and killed him within minutes of their arrival.” 

But as protests are planned for the coming weeks, his death also has fueled debate on whether African American leadership at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s department can better handle accusations of police brutality.

“Jim Cooper has a history of being abusive toward people,” Faison said. “There’s always hope that there’s change, but he tried to pass a law when he was a legislator called the Blue Lives Matter Law to consider police in the same category as race or gender when it comes to hate crimes, so that if you said something offensive about the police it could be considered a hate crime. So we know his history. We hope for the best, but we’ll see.”