Family of man who died in Charleston County jail wants medical company held accountable

Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 6:11 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 6:30 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The family of a man who died in at the Charleston County jail wants private entities they believe contributed to his death to be held accountable, including the medical company contracted to work inside the jail.

Jamal Sutherland’s family has already reached a settlement for $10 million with the government entities involved in the investigation of their son’s death at the Charleston County Detention Center. Those include the Sheriff’s Office, Charleston County Detention Center and North Charleston Police Department.

That settlement was officially approved by the court Friday.

But Sutherland family attorney Mark Peper said they still believe private entities like Wellpath, which has a $6.5 million contract with Charleston County to provide medical service inside the jail, may also be responsible.

Surveillance video and officer body camera footage was released last month from the night of Jan. 4, the night Sutherland was brought to jail.

His family said he was mentally ill. He’s seen throughout the videos interacting with officers. He’s booked and taken straight to his cell.

He doesn’t leave the cell until the next morning, when officers repeatedly use a Tazer on him and drag him from his cell after he refused to go to a bond hearing.

He’s never seen interacting with anyone in blue scrubs - the medical staff in the jail - until they’re called that next morning to do CPR.

Sutherland died outside his jail cell.

Sheriff Kristin Graziano admitted in a press conference that they are severely lacking mental health workers inside. “Right now, we have a contract with a medical provider, Wellpath, and they provide that service but it’s not enough... We have 750 people in there and we have one mental health professional and it’s just not enough, we need more.”

Charleston County has the option to renew the contract with Wellpath for five years. The cost is about $13 per inmate per day, according to the contract.

Wellpath’s extensive contract says it is responsible for medical, pharmaceutical, dental and mental health care for 1,300 inmates on average in Charleston.

Before a merger, the company was “Correct Care Solutions.” It was the target of a CNN investigation about jail deaths and medical problems.

Wellpath serves Hill Finklea Detention Center in Berkeley County, too. We found several lawsuits filed against the company there, alleging problems from medical malpractice to sexual assault and personal injury.

On Wellpath’s website under Frequently Asked Questions, it states anyone can file a lawsuit, so that’s not a good measure of their quality of care.

Last year, the company said only 7% of lawsuits resulted in any payment. Now, that number on the website is 10%

Ashley Pennington is Public Defender for Charleston and Berkeley Counties.

“We don’t realize the fact that there’s almost an entire unit in our county jail that has many of my clients who are chronically ill and who are not aware of why they’re there,” Pennington said.

He said there’s an active push to rethink how the jail handles inmates who come in with mental illness. “Protocols like looking at their mental health status and trying to intervene in a more therapeutic way. I have a high degree of confidence that we’re going to see some new policies coming out.”

He hopes to see those changes in jails across the state, too.

Wellpath has not yet answered questions about how their staff handled the Sutherland incident but said they are working to do so.

The other private entity which the Sutherlands feel should be held accountable is Palmetto Behavioral Health. That is the local mental health clinic where Sutherland was arrested.

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