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City leaders, pastors call for unity, justice in Charleston County jail death investigation

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 4:15 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston’s mayor and police chief, joined by members of clergy, called for unity after the release of video of an encounter that ended with a man’s death at the Charleston County jail in January.

The news conference was called to address the public’s reaction to video from inside the Al Cannon Detention Center recorded Jan. 5 showing the events that led to the death of 31-year-old Jamal Sutherland.

“We’ve come here today to mourn the death of Jamal Sutherland, and to speak directly to our citizens about what we need to do together to ensure that this kind of tragedy never happens again in our region,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said. “And I accentuate the word ‘region’ for despite the fact that this event did not occur in the city of Charleston or involve our City Police Department, Jamal’s death was a blow to our entire community and region.”

Tecklenburg said Jamal Sutherland deserved the mental health treatment that he sought.

“I can tell you that mental illness is not a crime,” Tecklenburg said. He said there are many more questions than answers.

“Why was Jamal in the jail rather than in a mental health facility in the first place? Who determined it was necessary to to use that level of force for him to attend a misdemeanor bond hearing, given his known mental health status? What legal accountability will there be for this horrific event?” he said. “We can’t expect the answers to those questions today, but we must have them.”

Tecklenburg urged people to keep Sutherland’s family in their prayers. But he also warned against violent protests.

“Remember that the righteous cause of justice is never served by violence, or vandalism,” he said.

“When people die and it’s not a natural causes, and it’s not an accident, accountability has to be a part of as well,” Charleston City Councilman Keith Waring said. “We all would want to respect families our families in the event of having a loss, a tragic loss like this, but from January until the day, May 14? That’s awful. Information should not be disseminated like that. Bad news, or good news, frankly, in particular when the public pays for it.”

Police Chief Luther Reynolds said the video of Sutherland’s final moments was “painful” and difficult to watch.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. I’ve seen a lot,” he said. “When I saw George Floyd last year almost to the day was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. This is right in that same category. It was painful. It was difficult. It will never get any easier watching that video and watching a person dies not normal. It’s not something that anybody should have to see.”

He said those at the news conference are unified as leaders in search of justice.

“We want to say the name, Jamal Sutherland. We want to make sure that this story gets the attention it deserves. But we want to make sure that we do it peacefully,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said his agency uses crisis intervention training where police officers are taught how to interact with people in crisis, how to de-escalate and intervene.

“The one thing that we’ve learned, even now more than ever, the police are not the solution to every problem,” Reynolds said.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano released the footage late Thursday night after Sutherland’s family requested that it be made public.

Members of Sutherland’s family, meanwhile, will speak at noon from outside the detention center.

Two Charleston County detention deputies who were involved in attempting to remove Sutherland from his cell have been working in an administrative capacity for months since he died.

No charges have been filed in Sutherland’s death so far, but Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she is waiting for additional details on the investigation before deciding whether criminal charges were viable. She said she expects to have the information she needs by the end of June.

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