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State senator urges calm ahead of video release showing Charleston Co. inmate’s death

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 4:36 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A state senator asked the public to be patient and wait for facts to come to light ahead of the expected release of a video that may show what led to the death of a Charleston County jail inmate.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said he expects the video from inside the jail showing the death of Jamal Sutherland to be released soon. Sutherland died while in custody on Jan. 5.

When the video is released, he said, people across the country will be calling for the same answers his family has been searching for since he was killed in January.

“Unfortunately, I believe that the coming days will give the public a grim, heartbreaking look into Mr. Sutherland’s final moments,” Kimpson said Thursday.

He said he has not seen the video himself but said he had discussions with people who have “firsthand knowledge” of its contents.

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)

“At this point, I would simply ask that the public, be patient, as the videotape, as my understanding will be soon released, and asked for patience as all of the facts unfold,” he said. “And I would also ask law enforcement and political leaders and the public at large to understand the deep frustrations these situations calls in communities of people who always believe that they are beaten battered, and even killed at times, for no justifiable reason. Clearly, there must be accountability and systematic policy changes to address this issue.”

Kimpson said we should begin with the premise that mental illness, in and of itself, is not a crime “and certainly not deserving of death.”

“At minimum, when law enforcement is involved, they must be adequately trained to intervene in such situations,” he said. “I know of very, very few circumstances where a mentally ill person restrained and behind bars should result in the death of hands by the hands of law enforcement while in custody.”

Sutherland died at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said. She said an autopsy determined the cause of death as “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process,” and the manner of death is currently “undetermined.”

The investigation into Sutherland’s death remains open and is still active, O’Neal said.

His death came hours after North Charleston Police transported him from Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center to the Al Cannon Detention Center.

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

Police responded to the facility after staff members called 911 on the night of Jan. 4 to report “a large-scale fight had erupted between patients and staff and that staff urgently needed help from law enforcement,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said.

Summey released a video Wednesday that included audio clips from the 911 call and body cam footage from North Charleston Police officers showing them taking Sutherland into custody. Body cam footage ends as Sutherland is being escorted with a nurse into the Al Cannon Detention Center.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Graziano said Tuesday that Fickett and Houle were placed on leave “for several weeks” after Sutherland’s death and have since been re-assigned “per policy to administrative duties.”

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