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

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 4:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A pathologist looking into the death of a Charleston County inmate while in the custody of deputies at the county jail said there were “no unusual or excessive interactions or areas of direct concern” when the deputies were removing the inmate from a cell.

The findings were part of a statement released by Solicitor Scarlett Wilson on the death of James Sutherland who died on Jan. 5 at the Charleston County Detention Center. Her statement revealed more information on the incident as well as the current status of the investigation.

In the statement, Pathologist Dr. J.C. Upshaw Downs ruled the manner of Sutherland’s death as “undetermined.” Wilson said the evidence surrounding Sutherland’s death has “raised serious concerns and begged many questions.”

Wilson said she has trained experts who may be able to shed more light on Sutherland’s death and the circumstances surrounding it to include potential culpability of those in law enforcement.

Wilson said she has not received the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s report on the incident, but does expect to have that information she needs to make a decision whether criminal charges are viable before the end of June.

Officials with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said detention Sergeant Lindsay Fickett and detention Deputy Brian Houle are in an administrative capacity pending the outcome of the SLED investigation and the internal affairs investigation.

The statement also shed more light on the incident which Wilson said started after the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was directed to conduct a jail cell extraction of Sutherland in order to have him present at a bond hearing for a misdemeanor charge.

According to Wilson Sutherland suffered from mental illness, and his family said he suffered from severe bipolar schizophrenia and lived with his family to help manage the illness.

Wilson said during Sutherland’s forced removal from the cell, Sutherland became unresponsive and died.

“Dr. Downs ruled the manner of Mr. Sutherland’s death is ‘undetermined,’” Wilson said. ”Dr. Downs opined, however, that Mr. Sutherland died, ‘as a result of excited state with pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.’”

According to Wilson, Downs further stated that his review of the extrication process did not reveal any “unusual or excessive interactions or areas of direct concern.”

Wilson said since Sutherland’s death her office has met with SLED, the coroner’s office, the pathologist and the Sutherland’s as well as their attorneys.

“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.”

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano also released the following statement on Tuesday.

“Jamal Sutherland died while in the custody of our jail officials in early January. I have spoken to Mr. Sutherland’s family and have conveyed my deepest condolences to them. I will continue to make myself available to the Sutherland family in any way possible during this time.

We have had inquiries regarding the video recording of the tragic death of Mr. Sutherland. I believe in transparency, and I understand the public’s need for answers. However, the recordings have 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. I support releasing the video to the public when the time is appropriate.

Additionally, there are several ongoing investigations, both internally and externally. 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. 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.

The deputies directly involved in this incident were immediately placed on leave for several weeks and have been re-assigned per policy to administrative duties.

We will continue to work diligently to assess, investigate, and improve our processes within our detention facility.”

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