Sutherland’s mother on son’s death: ‘They need jail today’

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The mother of the man who died in January while in custody at the Charleston County jail demanded justice for those responsible for his death.

Amy Sutherland joined activist groups outside the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office in downtown Charleston at a protest Wednesday afternoon over the death of 31-year-old Jamal Sutherland.

Jamal Sutherland, 31, died on Jan. 5 while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center.
Jamal Sutherland, 31, died on Jan. 5 while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center.(Provided)

She said there are people that should have been held accountable from the day of her son’s death.

“These people stayed on their job, they worked, while my family couldn’t go to work,” she said.

She called her son’s death a murder.

“We should not be wondering what we’re going to charge them, but when we gonna charge them,” she said. “I was never a ‘No justice’ person because in my little world, we thought everybody got justice,” Sutherland said. “But the death of my son has opened my eyes to a part of the world, I did not want to see. I now see how families feel. I now know how mothers feel when your child don’t come home, and they haven’t done anything wrong.”

She repeated a call for justice and for punishment for those responsible for Jamal Sutherland’s death.

“They need jail and they need jail today,” she said.

Sutherland, who died on the morning of Jan. 5 as deputies attempted to forcibly remove him from his cell so that he could attend a bond hearing on an assault charge.

Protesters were expected to march from Marion Square along Meeting Street to the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office and then return to Marion Square. But shortly before 12:30 p.m., they decided to drive to the solicitor’s office instead.

Charleston Police were on hand to escort the marchers, police spokesman Charles Francis said. Protesters did have a permit for Wednesday’s demonstration, he said.

Activist groups including the Racial Justice Network, the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter also called for reforms to the criminal justice system. Those groups laid out a list of demands with very specific action items. The want to see the deputies involved in the incident that resulted in Jamal’s death be charged and an independent review of the North Charleston Police Department, the Al Cannon Detention Center, and Palmetto Behavioral Health. They also want the misconduct records of any officer or deputy to be made public. Additionally, they’re calling for an accountability council made up of citizens and independent of the mayor’s office and sheriff’s office.

They also want a portion of law enforcement budgets to be reallocated toward creating a community safety and violence prevention department that can specifically respond to mental health crises.

Elder James Johnson called for Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson to give an answer on possible charges now.

“You’ve had enough time,” he said. “You had five months. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen every tape there is.”

Johnson said Wilson told him by phone last week she was waiting for two more evaluations to come in.

But, Johnson said, “enough is enough.”

“She’s stalling,” Johnson said. “But we want an answer today, this week, from Ms. Wilson.”

Elder James Johnson accused Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson of "stalling" in deciding...
Elder James Johnson accused Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson of "stalling" in deciding whether to press charges in Sutherland's death.(Live 5)

When asked about his confidence level that Wilson will press charges, Johnson responded, “zero.”

“I’ll be honest with you, from the conversation I had with her, she’s trying to find an alibi not to press charges, but she looked at the same video everybody else looked at,” Johnson said.

Charleston County Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a $10 million settlement with Sutherland’s family.

Sutherland also addressed the settlement Wednesday.

“The money was fine, but the memory of my son when it was rewarded, I felt like I did something wrong,” she said. “I’m grateful for those that voted, but this should have never been. I shouldn’t have to get an award because you killed my child.”

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano announced on May 17 the two Charleston County detention officers who were involved in the investigation had been fired after they spent months on administrative duty.

Amy Sutherland called the firings a “victory” for those who suffer from mental health problems.

“I consider that a victory for everybody out there that’s going through mental health,” Sutherland said on May 17. “For everyone who has children of color, because the system seemed like it was going to go against us. But God is who we depended on and it was done. One day people said they were going to march, and something was done that should have been done a long time ago.”

Sutherland said her son suffered from bipolar schizophrenia and was receiving treatment at Palmetto Behavioral Health when a fight broke out between patients on the night of Jan. 4. North Charleston Police responded to a 911 call from the facility and Sutherland and a second patient were arrested, although Sutherland family attorney Mark Peper said Sutherland was not involved in the fight that prompted the 911 call.

Sutherland faced a third-degree assault and battery charge and North Charleston Police took him to the Al Cannon Detention Center. He died approximately 10 hours later after becoming unresponsive while deputies worked to remove him from his holding cell.

Wilson said she is waiting for additional information in the investigation before she can determine whether criminal charges are viable for a prosecution.

Wilson has said she expects to have the information she needs to make that decision by the end of June.

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