Legal experts weigh in on Jamal Sutherland’s death, newly released videos

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 3:16 PM EDT
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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - Following the release of hours of footage leading up to the death of Jamal Sutherland at the Al Cannon Detention Center, legal experts say the videos raise more questions than answers as to how law enforcement should handle mental health cases.

Criminal defense lawyer and former South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon said the video, although hard to watch, shows little consideration for Sutherland’s serious mental state while officers tried to bring him to his bond hearing.

“To use this type of force to force somebody to simply go to another room to be on a video conference bond hearing, it’s not appropriate and I’ve got to think that has to change. If it hasn’t been changed, it should be changed immediately,” Condon said.

The officers can be seen tasing Sutherland multiple times before getting on his back, removing him from the cell, realizing he was unresponsive and then calling a nurse over.

“The obvious question for me from a policy standpoint is that if that is in fact the policy, shouldn’t that be revised for is someone who is clearly mentally ill as he is?” Condon said.

Civil rights attorney and former federal prosecutor in the North Charleston Police killing of Walter Scott, Jared Fishman, said the video “shines a light on the challenges in dealing with mental health in our community.”

“If you think in most jails throughout America, a large percentage of the people in there have mental health issues,” Fishman said. “As mental health hospitals, as mental health resources become less and less available in our communities, it’s fallen to the police to deal with this problem.”

But as for possible charges against officers involved, that will be a hard task according to both Condon and Fishman.

“Prosecuting officers involved in this kind of misconduct or in this kind of incident are remarkably hard to do,” Fishman said.

Condon said because the manner of death remains “undetermined” during the investigation, it creates an uphill battle for anyone looking to press criminal charges.

“That automatically brings to a question of well it seems to be a reasonable doubt right there as to whether or not this could be an illegal homicide,” Condon said.

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