Charleston County Sheriff’s Office releases video of Jamal Sutherland in-custody death

State News

WARNING: Some may find video in this story disturbing

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office released hours of combined footage late Thursday night in the death of a Charleston County inmate.

Jamal Sutherland, 31, died in the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center only a few hours after his arrest on a misdemeanor assault charge on January 5th, 2021.

Officers with the North Charleston Police Department were called out to Palmetto Behavioral Health on the evening of January 4th, 2021 where officers were told that a “large scale fight had erupted among patients and staff, and that staff urgently needed help from law enforcement,” according to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey in a video statement.

Mayor Summey and the City of North Charleston released a video response regarding NCPD’s role in Sutherland’s arrest from the mental health facility. That video included excerpts of the initial 9-1-1 call from the behavioral health center in which Sutherland was a patient.

FULL COVERAGE: JAMAL SUTHERLAND DEATH INVESTIGATION

The caller says that patients are fighting and that several people are in danger. The situation escalates and the caller says that Jamal [Sutherland] has assaulted a staff member. She then calls for help multiple times.

When asked how many people are hurt, the caller estimates over 10 people were injured in the event.

Summey made clear that although it was a mental health crisis, Sutherland could not be transported to another mental health center because he was already at a mental health center. He said that NCPD officers had an obligation to safely transport him to a secure location, which they did by taking him to jail.

PROVIDED | Jamal Sutherland

Limited video of Sutherland’s encounter with NCPD officers shows him in an agitated state screaming at officers not to touch him.

Officers let Sutherland go, still handcuffed, and ask him to stand against a wall. Sutherland continues yelling while officers and a jail nurse keep him in the designated area.

Once he was calm enough, he was escorted from the intake area to the jail, placed in the detention center’s custody, and the footage ends.

Lawmakers and community activists have called for the release of video from inside the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center which provides a look into Sutherland’s death for weeks – that video was released to News 2 just before 11:00 p.m. Thursday, and we warn you, some of the footage is very graphic and difficult to watch.

In one of the videos, a detention center employee details the situation after Sutherland does not comply with officer requests.

“Inmate is refusing to open the door, refusing to cuff up, taken an aggressive stance. He’s already said we have to use force on him. CDO Captain [Unclear] has been notified. Judge is stating that he needs to be in front of the judge. [Unclear] has cooperation with control for the extraction. Medical team is standing by.”

Another video shows detention officers moving into the cell, Sutherland is then tased several times, handcuffed, and then tased again. Finally, you’ll see as he’s dragged out of his cell wearing what is called a “spit mask,” which appears to make it harder for him to breathe.

After that sequence of events, officers spend about 10 to 15 minutes trying to revive Sutherland, but their attempts were unsuccessful.

A timeline of events:

9:15 a.m. – The morning of January 5th, only hours after Sutherland was booked into the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center, you see deputies first approach Sutherland’s cell in an attempt to take him before a bond court judge.

9:33 a.m. – Deputies sprayed pepper spray into Sutherland’s cell.

9:34 a.m. – The first taser was fired, striking Sutherland.

9:39 a.m. – Sutherland was brought into the hall for EMS personnel to begin resuscitation attempts.

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office said his time of death was 10:30 a.m.

Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal, who first identified Sutherland as an inmate-related death on January 6th, later announced this week the official cause of death was “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.”

The coroner’s office said the manner of death is currently “undetermined.”

Deputies involved in the situation:

Detention Deputy Brian Houle and Sergeant Lindsay Fickett were involved in the situation. They were immediately placed on administrative leave for several weeks and have since been reassigned to administrative duties, which the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office says lines up with their policy.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano released a statement along with the video of the incident inside the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center.

She talks about following the family’s wishes and that it is “clearly time for the public to view what happened.”

Sheriff Graziano goes on to say: “This unfortunate tragedy has revealed an opportunity to review existing policies. Similarly, we are looking at ways to improve safety for our staff members and the residents of our detention center.”

“Since this tragedy occurred, we have assessed our resources and are evaluating options for global improvement, including a focus on mental health awareness… This must be changed, and I am committed to implementing that change. These are systemic issues that our nation is facing on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she hopes to decide whether criminal charges are viable by the end of June.

“The evidence surrounding Mr. Sutherland’s death has raised serious concerns and begged many questions. I have retained experts who may be able to shed more light on Mr. Sutherland’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, to include potential culpability of those in law enforcement,” she said in a statement.

Community reaction:

Lowcountry activists and lawmakers are reacting to the investigation into Jamal Sutherland’s death, calling for more transparency and accountability.

While the video was released overnight, community leaders and activists gather in downtown Charleston Thursday afternoon with a list of demands for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office so they can show accountability.

Sheriff Graziano said that she was under a confidentiality agreement, which prevented her from releasing the video until the family agreed to do so. A copy of the agreement, provided by Sheriff Graziano, was given to News 2:

State lawmakers said the way Sutherland was treated was a tragic example of a problem the Lowcountry has faced before, but they also say it’s important to see the incident through the lens of Sutherland’s family.

“In Charleston, we’ve known Jamal’s name for some time … but soon people across the country will know him and will be calling for the same answers that his family has been searching for since he was killed in January,” said State Sen. Marlon Kimpson on Thursday. “Unfortunately, I believe that the coming days will give the public a grim, heartbreaking look into Mr. Sutherland’s final moments.”

Sen. Kimpson said we must recognize that mental illness is not a crime “and certainly not deserving of death.”

“At a minimum, when law enforcement is involved, they must be adequately trained to intervene in such situations. I know of very few circumstances where a mentally ill person restrained and behind bars should result in the death by the hands of law enforcement while in custody,” said Sen. Kimpson.

In addition to the patience of the public, Sen. Kimpson is calling on law enforcement, political leaders, and the public-at-large to understand the “deep frustration these situations cause in communities of people who always believe that they are beaten, battered, and even killed at times for no justifiable reason.”

He said clearly there must be accountability and systematic policy changes to address the issue.

State Representative JA Moore said he’s filing the “Justice for Jamal” act to provide more protocol and resources during the arrest of people suffering from mental health illnesses.

“My call to action to our community is to pay attention to the actual facts and details and not get caught up in speculation,” said SC Rep. JA Moore. “Not focus on anything else but making sure that this grieving family gets justice.”

This is a developing story. Count on 2 for the latest on-air and online.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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