Lowcountry activists calling for series of changes in Charleston County

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 9:36 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2021 at 11:40 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A group of Lowcountry activists are calling for a series of changes they would like to see in Charleston County.

The ‘Justice for All Coalition’ recently sent a 9-page memo to Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano, and Charleston county council members, detailing a series of reforms.

The coalition, which is made up of 11 Charleston area groups, released the document in part, as a response to the Jamal Sutherland case. Sutherland died while in custody at the Charleston County jail in January.

“Particularly in the wake of Jamal Sutherland, it became apparent to everyone that there were serious issues with the ways criminal justice was being operated in the Charleston area regarding North Charleston Police, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, mental health providers, and even Charleston city police,” ACLU of SC Executive Director Frank Knaack said. “We really felt like it was time we present the community vision for what we think safe and just communities should look like in Charleston County.”

The memo calls on Charleston County leaders to make changes to policies and procedures, as well as ending programs like civil asset forfeiture, and creating better systems for transparency and accountability.

Knaack says they want officials to create a new department that is separate from law enforcement, that will be staffed with people trained to deal with mental health crises. They also want a traffic enforcement department that is also staffed with non-law enforcement personnel, to be responsible for enforcing traffic violations.

In response to Sutherland’s death, they are still calling on Solicitor Wilson to charge the deputies involved in the case.

“I understand that people need to carry out their investigations, but it was very clear, what we saw in that video was two officers using excessive force that led to the death of Jamal Sutherland,” Charleston Immigration Coalition Co-founder Fernando Soto said. “The next steps are for her to charge the two officers for his death, and for the city of Charleston, the city of North Charleston, and the sheriff’s department to make clear policies that have consequences for their own officers.”

The groups believe that these changes are vital in making the county’s public safety system safer.

“This is of upmost importance because we need to understand the treatment of Jamal Sutherland was subhuman and atrocious, but this isn’t an isolated incident,” Charleston BLM organizer Marcus McDonald said. " It is reflective of how law enforcement treats Black men and women suffering from mental crisis, and illness inside and outside the penal system.”

Last month, Solicitor Wilson said she was waiting for more information from an ongoing investigation to determine whether she felt criminal charges could be filed.

We have reached out to the Sheriff’s Office and the Solicitor’s office for a response to the memo but have not heard back.

To read the full memo, click here.

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