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North Charleston police release video of man who later died in custody at jail

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 10:14 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - North Charleston Police released video from January showing their officers transporting a man to the Al Cannon Detention Center where he later died.

Jamal Sutherland, 31, died at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said.

The video released by North Charleston Police Wednesday afternoon shows footage of Sutherland’s arrest at the Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who narrates the edited video and explains what led to the call, said Charleston County 911 dispatchers received a call from the facility on the night of Jan. 4.

“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.

Toward the end of the video, Summey says when North Charleston officers last had Sutherland in their sight, “he was healthy” and was being accompanied by a nurse as he went into the jail.

“It brings me sorrow to know that Jamal passed away the following day on Jan. 5, but I am relieved that video and audio exists to let us see the respect and patience that North Charleston Police Officers displayed that night,” Summey said. “While Jamal’s family continues to grieve his passing, I hope our recordings of the interaction gives the family and the community confidence in the way we conducted ourselves.”

Jamal Sutherland, 31, died Tuesday while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center.
Jamal Sutherland, 31, died Tuesday while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center.(Provided)

Sutherland died 10 hours after being booked into the Al Cannon Detention Center.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has not as yet released footage from inside the jail.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said Tuesday those recordings had not yet been released for several reasons, “including deference to the Sutherland family.”

“Presently, the family is not ready for the public to see the recordings of the death of their loved one, and I am honoring their wishes,” Graziano said in the statement. “I support releasing the video to the public when the time is appropriate.”

The sheriff also cited several ongoing investigations, both internal and external.

“I must respect the integrity of those investigations to ensure justice is served for both the Sutherland family as well as for our detention officers,” Graziano said. “Because I do not have all of the answers, I plan to be as helpful as possible with the investigations and continue to stay in contact with the family.”

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.

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

READ MORE: Parents of inmate who died at Charleston County jail demand justice

Amy Sutherland said her son suffered from severe bipolar schizophrenia and lived with his family to help manage the illness. He had a long, documented history of treatment, which included stays at the Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center during episodic periods.

His parents said Jamal was hearing voices again and sought help at the behavioral health facility on New Year’s Eve.

Mark Peper, one of the attorneys representing the Sutherland family, said in January there were a lot of questions that still need to be answered.

Sutherland had no prior criminal history, he said.

“One thing that we do know for a fact is that while under the custody, care and control of the detention center he was tased, for what reason we don’t know,” Peper said. “How soon did he die thereafter, we don’t know. All of those questions remain to be answered.”

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.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said Detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy...
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.(Charleston County Sheriff's Office)

READ MORE: Deputy on leave after Charleston Co. jail inmate’s death previously faced assault lawsuit

Peper said Sutherland was arrested for simple assault. Normally, he said, if a person in custody had a mental health issue, they would be taken to a mental health facility, not a jail. But he said Sutherland was already at a mental health facility when North Charleston Police arrested him and took him to the Charleston County jail.

“He was where he needed to be, getting the help he needed,” Peper said. “Obviously, something occurred. He was booked in on simple assault, so clearly there was an incident at the mental health facility, but that’s where he needed to be.”

Peper said in January that if the results of the investigation eventually found wrongoing, those responsible for Sutherland’s death would be held accountable.

Wilson said she expects to have the information she needs to determine whether state charges would be viable before the end of June.

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