Sheriff says goal is to be ‘completely transparent’ in death investigation at jail

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 11:39 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said her goal is to be completely transparent while ensuring there is also due process and justice for all involved in the death of a man at the Charleston County jail.

Graziano held a press conference Friday afternoon following the release of hours of videos involving the death of Jamal Sutherland at the Al Cannon Detention Center this past January.

He was being taken out of his cell to go to a bond hearing but died while being subdued. Sutherland struggled with mental illness, and was brought to the jail by North Charleston police after a fight at a psychiatric facility he was committed to.

During Friday’s press conference, Graziano promised several measures including safety precautions. Some of the things she said she would be working on is the restriction of “the non lethal force aspect” of a person in a mental health crisis.

“We’re going to put measures in place to protect our residents of our facilities, and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that happen,” Graziano said. “That goes for our communities as well.”

She asked for the public’s trust as they make changes following Sutherland’s death.

“I’m asking you to trust the process. Trust the process that we have in place,” Graziano said. “Understand that we are making changes as we can and as we see fit, and we are aggressively doing this. This didn’t start January 4. This started before we got here.”

According to Graziano, since Sutherland’s death she has also changed the detention center’s policy involving forcing inmates to go to bond hearings.

“That was their directive. That was their policy at the time,” she said. “Since that time, since that day, I’ve changed that policy and no longer allow forced bond hearings. Residents can absolutely refuse their right to a bond hearing. I want to be clear about that.”

The sheriff also extended her condolences to the Sutherland family and said she will continue to do everything she can on their behalf. Graziano, who was sworn in as sheriff in January, said she knew coming into the position that changes needed to be made.

“That is what we’ve been doing for the last four months, and that’s why I ran for sheriff, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” she said.

Graziano says they do have a mental health professional assigned to the detention center through a medical provider, but said it was not enough and they needed more at the facility.

The sheriff also touched on the deputies involved in the incident. She said she suspended those deputies and said she had 30 days to make a final determination on their employment status. According to Graziano, at the conclusion of those 30 days SLED had not yet finalized their review of the incident.

The sheriff said she did not have all the information to make that employment determination.

Graziano said at her discretion and based on policy, she put those deputies back on administrative leave capacity.

“They essentially have desk jobs, pending the outcome of this investigation,” Graziano said. “They do not have any contact with any of the residents of our facility.”

You can watch the entire press conference below.

Graziano said she agreed to release the video late Thursday night after the family requested it be released to the public.

“I have deferred to the family’s wishes to keep the video private until they were ready, and they have now asked me to release the jail footage of their son, Jamal Sutherland,” Graziano said in a statement late Thursday night. “I am directing the immediate release of all videos related to his death in their entirety. We agree it is clearly time for the public to view what happened.”

The video released Thursday night shows the events on the morning of Jan. 5 at the Al Cannon Detention Center involving Sutherland and deputies with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.

Sutherland died at the jail after being in jail for just about 12 hours, according to Solicitor Scarlett Wilson.

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office said a forensic autopsy showed the cause of death as “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.”

The coroner said the manner of death is currently “undetermined” as the investigation into Sutherland’s death remains open and active.

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