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Nancy Mace says initial Jamal Sutherland report is ‘incredibly dishonest and misleading’

Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 6:49 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - The recent release of video footage of a Goose Creek man’s final moments alive while in custody at Charleston County’s detention center is raising concerns over how his death was initially described to the public by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.

Jamal Sutherland died on January 5 at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center around 10:30 a.m., according to the Charleston County Coroner’s Office. His death came less than 14 hours after he was booked into the jail on a misdemeanor charge and one day after Sheriff Kristin Graziano was sworn into office.

Three hours after Sutherland’s reported time of death, the sheriff’s office sent an email to Live 5 News and other media outlets that said detention deputies reported “an unresponsive inmate ... [who] was pronounced deceased inside the facility.”

The email said that per protocol, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division was notified and that per policy, two deputies were placed on administrative leave.

However, there was no mention at the time that deputies had repeatedly used tasers on Sutherland after he was accused of refusing to leave his cell to attend a bond hearing. There was also nothing released to the public that indicated that Sutherland was mentally ill.

“That is incredibly misleading,” said U.S. Representative Nancy Mace. “That report? It is incredibly dishonest and misleading to do that to our community and it’s wrong.”

Mace has become a vocal critic of how Sheriff Graziano is handling the Sutherland case.

Live 5 Investigates tried to get details as soon as we learned about Sutherland’s death.

On January 5, our investigative producer filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the sheriff’s office seeking any video or reports about what happened.

We received an incident report three days later that was written by a deputy who appears to have not been there when Sutherland died. The deputy’s narrative said that when he arrived at the detention center, he was told “an inmate failed to respond to resuscitation measures.”

Last week, more than four months after his death, the Sheriff released surveillance and body camera video that showed exactly what happened on January 5.

Deputies in the video said Jamal Sutherland was clutching a spoon and refused to go to his bond hearing.

Body camera footage showed two deputies tased him repeatedly and dragged him from his cell. Despite multiple medical workers attempting CPR after he was extracted, Sutherland died.

“The fact that it took Sheriff Graziano almost five months to have a press conference on this horrific event that happened in the detention center that she leads? This event is a test of truth and a test of character and she has failed on both counts,” Mace said.

In January, the Sheriff’s Office denied our request for video footage, stating that it “will not be released since it is an active investigation.”

We asked again in April and were denied again “pending the SLED investigation.”

SLED also denied our FOIA request for their report in this case.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, Roger Antonio, said in a statement, “The initial report was not the final detailed report, as the case was immediately turned over to an independent agency to begin an investigation. The deputies were directed not to proceed, as SLED became the primary investigating agency.”

Attorney and former media law professor Jay Bender said that just because a case is under investigation does not mean information, video, and reports cannot be released, adding that he believes this excuse is used far too often by law enforcement agencies.

“By delaying the release of the video and delaying response to the incident, the sheriff only heightens the suspicions that there’s a cover up, something’s gone wrong in the department, and no one’s going to be held accountable,” Bender said.

Since last week, our investigative team has filed more than a dozen FOIA requests with state and local agencies to continue investigating Sutherland’s death.

“I appreciate your in-depth reporting on this, but the more we learn, the worse it gets. And it’s unacceptable,” Mace said.

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