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READ: Charleston County sheriff releases statement with video of inmate who died in custody

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 5:02 AM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The sheriff of Charleston County released footage late Thursday showing the moments that led to the death of a 31-year-old inmate at the county jail.

Jamal Sutherland died at the jail on the morning of Jan. 5.

READ MORE: Sheriff releases video involving inmate’s death at Charleston County jail

He was being taken out of his cell to go to a bond hearing but died while being subdued, prosecutors said.

Sutherland struggled with mental illness and had been brought to the Al Cannon Detention Center by North Charleston Police who responded to the Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center the night before.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey released an edited video Wednesday that included 911 audio and body cam footage showing his city’s police response and interactions with Sutherland.

“Officers were told that a large-scale fight had erupted between patients and staff and that staff urgently needed help from law enforcement,” Summey said.

READ MORE: N. Charleston Police release video of man who later died in custody at Charleston Co. jail

Activist groups demanded the release of the video earlier this week following a report from the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office stating the investigation into the incident was not yet complete. But Sheriff Kristin Graziano said earlier in the week she would not immediately release the footage at the request of Sutherland’s family.

Shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, however, she released the footage, along with the following statement:

I have deferred to the family’s wishes to keep the video private until they were ready, and they have now asked me to release the jail footage of their son, Jamal Sutherland. I am directing the immediate release of all videos related to his death in their entirety. We agree it is clearly time for the public to view what happened.

I will continue to make myself available to the Sutherland family and offer my sincere condolences. I must respect the integrity of the ongoing investigations to ensure justice is served, and therefore I will not be commenting on specific aspects of the video.

What occurred on Jan. 5, 2021, was 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. Their efforts were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr. Sutherland was suffering as a result of mental illness. 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. In my career as a law enforcement professional, I have seen my fellow officers take on mental health responsibilities that they are not equipped to handle. 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.

As sheriff, I regret that this occurred. I will continue to work with our judicial system, health care professionals, and community to ensure we are continually improving our processes and promoting the safety of all our residents and staff. This will require a lot of work, and we will continue to engage our community in conversations around these topics.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her investigation, based on a report from the State Law Enforcement Division, found that he became unresponsive and died after Charleston County deputies in the jail worked to forcibly remove him from his jail cell so that he could attend a bond hearing for a misdemeanor assault charge.

READ MORE: Pathologist: No ‘unusual or excessive interactions’ during incident involving deputies, inmate

Pathologist J.C. Upshaw Downs ruled the manner of Sutherland’s death as “undetermined,” but said he died “as a result of excited state with pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process,” according to a release from Wilson’s office.

Downs also stated his review of the way deputies were forcing Sutherland out of his jail cell did not reveal “any unusual or excessive interactions or areas of direct concern,” the release states.

“In order for the state to hold someone criminally responsible for another’s death, the state must prove unlawful conduct was the proximate cause of death,” Wilson said in a statement explaining why her office had not yet issued charges in Sutherland’s death.

“I am grateful to the Sutherland family for their patience and cooperation with my office and me,” Wilson said. “They have shown a deep understanding of many issues and demonstrated their steadfast resolve to find justice for their son. I have reviewed critical evidence with the Sutherland family. Some members of the community have requested (or demanded) that I publicly release evidence from this ongoing investigation. I remind everyone that as a prosecutor at this stage, I am governed by ethics rules that prohibit me from making further public statements and disclosures beyond this advisory.”

But Wilson has not ruled out the possibility that criminal charges could still come.

Mark Peper, one of the attorneys representing the Sutherland family, said Sutherland had no prior criminal history.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said Detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle were placed on paid administrative leave after Sutherland died. They are working in an administrative capacity.

Wilson said she expects to have information from the ongoing investigation into Sutherland’s death that she needs to make a decision whether criminal charges are viable before the end of June.

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