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Groups gather outside solicitor’s office demanding criminal charges in Jamal Sutherland’s death

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 3:03 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 1, 2021 at 11:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Activist groups sounded another call for criminal charges Thursday night in the death of Jamal Sutherland, vowing to continue doing so until charges are filed.

The South Carolina Black Activist Coalition and other groups spoke outside the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office in downtown Charleston Thursday night. For months, community activists have called on local officials to hold people accountable for Sutherland’s death.

Sutherland, 31, died on Jan. 5 while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center. Video released by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office shows him becoming unresponsive as he was forcibly removed from his cell ahead of a bond hearing where he was to appear on an assault charge. He had been arrested the night before at a mental health treatment facility where a fight broke out. His family has maintained that Sutherland himself was not involved in the fight, but that he became agitated after North Charleston Police responded to the facility.

“We were here two months and we’ll be here for however long we need to be, no matter if it’s us, or a thousand people, or a hundred-thousand people here, or just me and Justin here,” Charleston Black Lives Matter organizer Marcus McDonald said. “We are going to be demanding justice and we won’t stop.”

Activist Thomas Dixon believes the solicitor is stalling the decision and is not being transparent.

“Charging and arrest by this same solicitor could have been done on Jan. 6, thereby taking away some of this pain and anguish and agony that Sutherland’s mother, Amy, has faced for the last six months,” Dixon said.

The groups said this case is another example of racial injustice and a broken criminal justice system.

They have also continuously called on Charleston city and county leaders to provide better mental health resources and police reform.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she has not ruled out criminal charges in the case, but said she was waiting on additional details in the investigation before she could decide whether criminal charges could stand up in court. She initially said she hoped to have all of the information she needed to make that decision by the end of June.

But she said on Monday additional forensic testing had been ordered and she had called in a forensic pathologist to further review details in the case, which would delay her decision.

Sutherland’s family and community activists have called for charges in Sutherland’s death since the release of videos from inside the jail showed him becoming unresponsive.

She has not specified a date by which she expects to announce whether charges will be filed.

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