Civil rights attorney Crump: ‘We’re gonna keep standing up for justice for Jamal’
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he and the family of Jamal Sutherland plan to explore “every possible legal remedy” to get justice in Sutherland’s January 2021 death at the Al Cannon Detention Center.
“What the Sutherland family has endured for this past year is something you would not wish on your worst enemy,” Crump said.
Crump and Sutherland’s family, joined by family members of other Black men whose families have fought for justice in high-profile incidents, spoke outside the office of Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson in downtown Charleston. Wilson said back in July she could not bring criminal charges against the former deputies because she would not be able to prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It’s an indictment on the entire city of Charleston, South Carolina, that you won’t even give his family their day in court,” Crump said. “That’s all we’re asking for, their constitutional rights.”
The group gathered on the first anniversary of Sutherland’s burial. Crump said the group planned on convening at the capitol in the near future in Sutherland’s name.
Sutherland died while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center on Jan. 5, 2021. He had been arrested the night before by North Charleston Police in a disturbance at a mental health facility and was accused of assault. He became unresponsive the following morning while detention deputies forcibly removed him from his cell so that he could attend a bond hearing on the assault charge.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office said this week that there is currently no pending investigation or any plans to file criminal charges in Sutherland’s case.
“Ahmaud Arbery’s father is here, Marcus Arbery. Do you know what they said to them for 11 months and 42 days? They said nothing was going to happen.” Crump said.
Arbery, 25, died after three white men chased him in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, was sentenced to life with the chance of parole after serving 30 years in prison.
“But when the people united, we’ll never be defeated,” Crump said. “We will go to that attorney general, we will go to the solicitor, and we will keep showing up. You know, they said slavery would never be abolished. The people kept going. They said Jim Crow would never be abolished. The people kept standing up. We’re going to keep standing up for justice for Jamal. Go tell the attorney general that.”
Sutherland’s mother, Amy, called on God to make changes she says the state of South Carolina will not make.
“This state is one of the only states that can hold a Black man down, murder him, and you walk out the jail,” Amy Sutherland, Jamal’s mother said. She claimed Wilson lied to her family “over and over again” and “made a fool of the justice system.”
“I keep saying it and I believe it: One day, this state will get its act together,” she said. “The governor, the senators, the congressmen, the police, the jail, finally somebody’s going to get it together, and I look forward to being alive; I just want to be alive to see that nobody else goes through this.”
“I need everybody to know, any entity that had to do with this wrongdoing and this tragedy, his death, y’all on borrowed time,” Sutherland’s brother, Jamar, said. “Justice is coming.”
“We are blessed to have so many people standing with us, and I don’t take it for granted that these people come, thousands of miles, because they know that this is a worthy cause,” James Sutherland, Jamal’s father, said. “And don’t think that just because it’s happening to Black people, that it won’t happen to white.”
In addition to Crump and Sutherland’s family, the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Daunte Wright attended the news conference along with Rev. Nelson Rivers.
“They both was tortured to death,” Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, said. “Black people we’ve been going through this for over 400 years. And the things that are happening when you are in custody or out of custody shouldn’t happen.”
Floyd died in May 2020 after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against his neck as Floyd, who was handcuffed, said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for Floyd’s murder.
SPECIAL SECTION: Jamal Sutherland death
The Rev. Nelson Rivers compared what happens to Black people in custody with the case of Dylann Roof, the convicted Charleston church shooter who gunned down nine Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015.
“Dylann Roof represents what the family was crying about, because we said the first time we saw the video of Jamal, if he were a dog, the officers would be put in jail. But because they did it to a Black man, they walked away,” Rivers said. “When it came to Dylann Roof, he was in the car with a gun on the side, and the video shows that when the officer noticed that was Dylann Roof, he took his gun and holstered it. We don’t get that. They pull the gun out when we don’t have any weapons.”
Rivers said the color of Roof’s skin should not give him “a badge of superiority” and that the color of his shouldn’t give a Black man “a badge of inferiority.”
The news conference ended with the release of balloons and the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Sutherland, who would have turned 33 on Friday.
Solicitor did not file charges in Sutherland’s death
Detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle, who were initially placed on administrative leave then allowed to return to administrative duty, were terminated in May after the release of the video showing the incident.
Wilson called a news conference last summer to announce she would not file charges, citing the difficulty of proving criminal intent on the part of the two detention deputies.
“I understand people will have a hard time with the decision not to prosecute,” Wilson said at a news conference last summer in which she announced she would not file charges. “Legally, though, once you see the analysis once you see all of the facts that go into these decisions, you know that there was no real choice as a prosecutor.”
Wilson called Sutherland’s death a “travesty” and said it should not have happened. She said about 24 hours after he checked himself in to a mental health facility, he attempted to check himself out, saying that he was worse then than he was when he went in.
“While armchair lawyers and judges, and even armchair law enforcement have made it seem as though the videos in this case are the only evidence that we would need, I know better,” she said, citing her experience in prosecuting cases.
She said the videos are “damning, disturbing and upsetting.”
Wilson said the first pathologist’s report and eyewitness testimony from a nurse who was present indicated in March that she did not have sufficient evidence for criminal charges, but she said she owed it to the Sutherland family to dig further.
She said she thinks they could prove the deputies had a hand in Sutherland’s death but added that it “doesn’t mean they committed a crime.”
Columbia-based attorney Carl Soloman said there are protocols in South Carolina that allow for cases to be reviewed.
“Scarlett Wilson has indicated that she is asked [Attorney General Alan Wilson] to review this man. We have written a letter. We have sent an email. We’re going to go to the front door: ‘Mr. Wilson, will you look at this case and make a decision?’” he said. “It is time to do the work. This will not go away.”
Wright was fatally shot by a Minneapolis Police officer who said she mistook her handgun for her Taser during a traffic stop. Former officer Kimberly Potter was found guilty of manslaughter in Wright’s killing. One of the jurors said they felt she made an honest mistake when she drew her firearm instead of her stun gun, but that she was still responsible for his death.
“Jamal Sutherland was suffering from a mental health crisis when he was admitted to jail, where he was tased and pepper-sprayed repeatedly, dying shortly after,” Crump said in a statement released on Wednesday. “His last words were, ‘I can’t breathe.’ His death raises questions about how people with a mental illness receive treatment within the criminal justice system and what alternative strategies could have saved Sutherland’s life. To date, the detention officers who tasered and pepper-sprayed Sutherland before his death have not faced any criminal charges.”
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