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Parents of inmate who died at Charleston County jail demand justice

Updated: Jan. 8, 2021 at 6:24 PM EST
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Amy Sutherland recalls the daily knock at her bedroom door first thing in the morning. It’s her son, Jamal, coming in to tell her everything that happened the day before and all of the plans for the next day.

“When he was thirteen, he would sit on my lap and talk for hours,” Sutherland said. “I will never forget him knocking on my door. Never will I forget him in the morning time.”

Jamal Sutherland died at the age of 31 while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center Tuesday after being booked in 12 hours earlier for simple assault. When his parents were notified, they thought there had been some kind of mistake.

“I was in shock because he was not where we took him in the first place,” his father, James Sutherland, Sr., said. “We were told he was in the detention center, when we thought he was still at the behavior health center.”

Jamal Sutherland 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.

“I heard from him every day,” Amy Sutherland said. “He said, ‘Momma they’re going to kill me’.”

His family and friends remember him as having a caring heart and a deep relationship with God. They say he had a passion for music and his pet dog, who Jamal lovingly referred to as his spirit animal.

One of the lawyers representing the Sutherlands, Mark Peper, says a cause of death has not been released and there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered. He also says, Jamal had no prior criminal history.

“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 State Law Enforcement Division has taken over the investigation into the death and two deputies working in the detention center are now on paid administrative leave. Those deputies are Detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle.

Peper says Jamal was arrested for simple assault. He says normally if a person in custody has mental health issues, they are taken to a mental health facility and not the jail. Jamal, however, was already at a mental health facility when he was arrested.

“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.”

Jamal’s parents say something needs to be done about how people with mental illnesses are treated.

“I think that there needs to be laws so that when the mentally ill can’t speak for themselves, first of all, you notify his parents,” Amy Sutherland said. “I want people’s children not to die, not to be punished because they are mentally ill. It’s a part of our society and we need to get it right.”

Peper says the investigation by SLED could take several months. If wrongdoing is found, Peper says there will be a lawsuit and those people will be held accountable.

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