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Jail administrator fired hours after inmate death, sheriff’s office says it’s not connected

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 7:41 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The man in charge of Charleston County’s detention center was fired within hours of an inmate’s death inside the facility, but a spokesperson for the agency that runs the jail says that the two incidents are not related.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano fired Deputy Chief Willis Beatty at noon on Jan. 5, the day after she was sworn into office. Beatty’s termination came more than 30 years after he started working for the agency and less than two hours after Jamal Sutherland died outside his cell at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.

Lt. David Willoughby, who as of Dec. 2020 was a supervisor of the agency’s Office of Professional Standards, was terminated on Jan. 5 as well.

“The Sheriff’s decision not to continue their employment was made prior to the Jamal Sutherland incident,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Cpt. Roger Antonio said in May.

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office said Sutherland, who was arrested on a misdemeanor charge on Jan. 4 at a facility serving people with mental illnesses, died around 10:30 a.m.

Videos of the moments leading up to Sutherland’s death were released in May, showing that he had been tased multiple times and then removed from his cell by detention deputies. No charges have been filed in connection with his death.

“Sheriffs have an unusual liability in South Carolina,” communications law attorney Jay Bender said. “A sheriff is liable for all the acts of a deputy and a sheriff is entitled to appoint the deputies he or she wants. It could have just been a coincidence. New sheriff, new team, and it coincided with this assault on an inmate.”

Letters sent to Beatty and Willoughby by Graziano on Jan. 5 stated, “It is my decision to inform you that your services with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office are no longer required, and that your employment is hereby terminated, effective 12:00pm, January 5th 2021.”

The sheriff’s office has not released the time that the letters were delivered to Beatty and Willoughby.

“I think the problem is the sheriff didn’t step up, didn’t say what was going on and it’s led to a bunch of conjecture,” Bender said. “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 is going to be held accountable.”

Neither Beatty nor Willoughby have yet publicly commented on their firings.

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