Footage showing the moments leading up to the in-custody death of a Black man who died at a South Carolina jail in early January was released by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, May 13.
Jamal Sutherland, a 31-year-old Black man who suffered from mental illness, died on Jan. 5 at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston after deputies used pepper spray and Tasers to forcibly remove him from his cell for a bail hearing.
Two of the deputies involved in Sutherland’s death were fired Monday by Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano.
Detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle used pepper spray and electric shocks to force Sutherland from his cell, body camera and surveillance footage shows.
“I must weigh the interest of public safety for the community against any incident that creates even the perception of an impairment to the operation of the Detention Center for the safety of all residents, staff and our Community,” Graziano said in a statement.
Footage released on Thursday at the request of Sutherland’s family shows deputies standing outside of his cell, ordering him to come to the door. Sutherland, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia as a teenager, could be heard yelling repeated phrases, including “hallelujah!” as he failed to obey deputies’ orders.
After more than five minutes passed without Sutherland coming to the door, Houle unlocked the cell door and deployed a Taser, prompting Sutherland to fall to the ground.
Deputies then ordered Sutherland to slide towards the door on his stomach.
“Keep sliding, keep sliding!” Fickett said.
Houle entered the cell where Sutherland was sitting on the floor and began placing him in handcuffs before a Taser was deployed a second time.
Sutherland cried out as he fell toward the floor face-down. As he writhed on the floor beneath the two deputies, a Taser was deployed a third and fourth time. Sutherland was then successfully placed in handcuffs, and a spit hood was placed over his head.
Deputies dragged Sutherland’s limp body out of the cell and into a common area, where they removed the barbs from his back and placed him on a wheelchair.
“Will you check him?” one deputy asked when a medic entered the area. The medic said Sutherland was breathing, and when more medics arrived, another said they felt a pulse.
A deputy explained what happened, saying, “He got Tased about probably six to eight times, at least.”
When paramedics arrived, they used an automatic chest compression machine and tried to revive Sutherland for about 35 minutes until a blanket was placed over his body. He was declared dead at 10:30 a.m. A pathologist declared Sutherland’s death “undetermined” but speculated that prescription drug use may have been a contributing factor.
Graziano, who began her duties as sheriff on the day of Sutherland’s death, called the incident a “horrible tragedy.”
“Our officers removed Mr. Sutherland from his cell that morning in order to ensure that he received a timely bond hearing, as required by law,” Graziano said. “Their efforts were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr. Sutherland was suffering as a result of mental illness.”
The two fired deputies were originally suspended for 30 days after the incident.
Family attorney Mark A. Peper said Sutherland had asked his family for help dealing with his mental illness on Dec. 31, 2020, after suffering from auditory hallucinations and paranoia, and that they had taken him to Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, a mental health center.
A fight involving patients and staff broke out at the center on Jan. 4, and responding officers were told Sutherland had thrown a fax machine and punched a staff member. Sutherland was arrested and was scheduled for a bail hearing on a misdemeanor assault charge on the morning of his death.
According to Peper, the altercation at the center involved two other patients and Sutherland intervened in an effort to help, but became “agitated” when police arrived.
“Given the confusion, he is alleged to have committed a misdemeanor offense of simple assault on a nurse staff member” at the center, Peper said.
Sutherland’s mother, Amy Sutherland, said mental illness doesn’t justify the way her son was treated by officers.
“Mental illness does not give anybody the right to put their hands on my child,” she said on Friday.
Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office is reviewing the case and will determine by the end of June if anyone will be criminally charged.
Graziano said she has already canceled directives that require deputies to force residents to go to bond hearing at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center. The sheriff’s office is also developing policies with “a focus on mental health awareness.”