“Being mentally ill is a crime in this state,” says the victim’s mother.
The two Charleston detention officers who pepper-sprayed and tased a mentally ill Black man in his cell will not face charges.
Jamal Sutherland, 31, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia as a teenager, according to The Post and Courier.
Prior to his death in January, he was at the Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center and was arrested for allegedly assaulting a staff member. A fight reportedly broke out between Sutherland and another patient on Jan. 4. Both were charged with third-degree assault and battery.
Sutherland had a bond hearing set for the following day. He was declared dead the morning of his court appearance after being removed from his cell by deputies at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.
Body camera video from the Jan. 5 incident was released in June by the Charleston County sheriff’s office. The footage shows former detention sergeant Lindsay Fickett and detention deputy Brian Houle outside Sutherland’s cell. One deploys a Taser and uses it repeatedly as Sutherland screams in pain and writhes on the floor. He is heard saying “I’m not resisting, officer,” during the encounter and “I can’t breathe.”
During his interaction with deputies, Sutherland was tased 10 times and then placed in a “spit mask,” NBC News reported.
Sutherland lost consciousness and could not be resuscitated, per the Post and Courier.
Fickett and Houle were initially placed on administrative leave over the disturbing incident before both were fired in May. This week, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson acknowledged that the deputies made “grave mistakes” that played a role in Sutherland’s death, but their use-of-force did not violate jail policies, NBC reported.
“That doesn’t mean it’s a crime,” she said, adding that “the issue isn’t our ability to prove how many times a Taser was used.”
Sutherland’s mother told reporters after Wilson’s announcement that “justice was denied” in her son’s death.
“I can’t be mad with her — she didn’t write these laws,” Amy Sutherland said of Wilson. “Being mentally ill is a crime in this state.”
Jamal Sutherland (Credit: Courtesy of Sutherland family.)
On Saturday, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano announced several policy changes at the jail.
“The first change happened immediately after Mr. Sutherland’s death: our internal policy was changed to allow our detention center’s residents the right to refuse their bond hearing. They no longer have to do so in front of a judge. This unwritten policy was longstanding during the previous administration, and our internal policy now aligns with state law,” Graziano said in a statement posted on Medium.
“The second change stems from the first: With the assistance of new software installed at the detention center, residents can attend their bond hearings remotely by being supplied with an electronic device inside their cell,” she continued.
“The third and fourth changes are incredibly important: detention officers have been directed to de-escalate and disengage when a resident becomes combative or uncooperative. There is also a new policy that states that detention officers have a duty to intervene if they see something they believe goes against policy and/or safety. If they see something, they should go to their supervisor,” Graziano continued.
Sutherland’s death was ruled a homicide by coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal in June. By then, the Charleston County, South Carolina council had unanimously approved a $10M settlement to the Sutherland family in the wake of his wrongful jailhouse death, NBC News reported.
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