People who saw Jonathan Sanders die last week in Stonewall, Mississippi, told investigators that Police Officer Kevin Herrington held the black 39-year-old in a chokehold for 20 minutes. Three witnesses to Sanders' July 8 death alleged he was denied CPR after an altercation with Herrington, who said he was "going to get that n-----" and strangled him, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

Sanders' family attorneys, Chokwe Lumumba and CJ Lawrence, told the Guardian he died from manual asphyxiation. “We believe there is probable cause for a prosecution,” Lawrence added. “A determination should now be made by a jury at an open trial as to whether or not Officer Herrington had any justification for choking Jonathan Sanders to death.”

The lawyers say Sanders was exercising on his horse and buggy near a gas station at about 10 p.m. on July 8 when he saw Herrington fighting with someone he knew, the Huffington Post reported. He intervened, and Herrington followed him, startling the horse and causing Sanders to fall to the ground. Sanders ran after his horse but was stopped by Herrington, who allegedly used a flashlight to pull him into a chokehold. Herrington told a witness Sanders reached for his gun and refused to let him go despite his pleas that he couldn't breathe. Herrington reportedly kept one CPR-trained witness from helping Sanders.

Sanders died between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Afterward, the case was turned over to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which had finished Sanders' autopsy but was not yet done analyzing the results Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Herrington, who has worked part-time with the Stonewall police for more than two years, was placed on unpaid leave.

"At this point, there's no clarification whether choking is the actual cause of death until the autopsy is complete," Chief Michael Street told the Clarion-Ledger. "At this time, it would be premature for us to speculate on any of the events as they unfolded until all the witnesses have been interviewed. Law enforcement doesn't have the luxury of speculating. We deal in facts and truth, and in this instant as in any other, that's what we will do."

The police department had not previously received complaints about Herrington's work. Sanders had a criminal record for being arrested on domestic violence, traffic violations and drug charges. Most recently, he was arrested in April for possessing cocaine.

The three witnesses whose accounts the attorneys shared with reporters were all related to Sanders by marriage, the Guardian reported.