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Family seeks justice in Sterling Higgins’ 2019 death

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UNION CITY, Tn. (WSIL) -- In March 2019 Sterling Higgins called 911 for help and claimed someone robbed him and was trying to kill him.

After advising him to seek help at a hospital, police arrived a short time later and arrested Higgins for trespassing at a store.

Those details came from an amended complaint filed last Friday. It's part of a civil lawsuit against the county, Union City and four police officers. It includes video from inside the jail that never made it to the grand jury.

Attorney David Cooper represents Jennifer Jenkins, who filed the lawsuit in March and is the mother of one of Sterling's daughters. He says the video is important for the case.

"At this point Mr. Higgins can't speak for himself," Cooper said. "So the video from that standpoint is crucial."

VIDEO INSIDE THE JAIL

Video shows Higgins arriving inside the jail wearing handcuffs just after 1:45 a.m. on March 25. An officer appears to shove Higgins before he grabbed her hair and pulled her.

Other officers came to restrain Higgins, held him to the ground and then cuffed his legs, according to the lawsuit.

The video appears to show one of the officers holding Higgins by the neck while another officer steps on Higgins side while still handcuffed.

Higgins appears to have white foam coming from his mouth in the video before officers strapped him in a chair and wheeled him into a jail cell.

He remained in the cell strapped into the chair for roughly 15 minutes before paramedics arrived to perform CPR.

"They immediately took him into a hallway... and began emergency CPR but by then it was too little too late," Cooper said.

Higgins was pronounced dead at 2:53 a.m., more than an hour after arriving to the jail. Larry Higgins, Sterling's younger brother, says officers should've called for medical assistance sooner.

"They weren't familiar with him being in the state that he was in," Higgins said. "They should've known that something was wrong."

AUTOPSY REPORT

The autopsy report shows Higgins died of "excited delirium due to methamphetamine toxicity" while suffering from blunt-forced trauma to the neck, head and torso.

"The cause of death was more in line with... the unnecessary excessive restraint that was used on Mr. Higgins while he was down on the floor," Cooper said.

Larry Higgins says Sterling's death is still fresh in his mind more than a year later but hopes justice will be served soon.

"I won't get to see my brother again. His kids won't get to see their daddy again. That's something money can't buy," Higgins said. A trial date for the civil lawsuit has not been set.

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Danny Valle

Danny Valle anchors News 3 This Morning on Saturday and Sunday and reports Monday-Wednesday at News 3 WSIL. He joined the team in 2017 as a morning producer, before becoming an anchor in 2018, and reporter in 2019. Danny graduated from SIU-Carbondale in 2015, earning a Bachelor’s in Electronic Journalism with a specialization in Sports Broadcasting.

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