Group calls for solicitor’s resignation, criminal justice reform in Jamal Sutherland’s death
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Activists called Tuesday for the resignation of Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson the day after she announced she would not file criminal charges in the death of Jamal Sutherland.
Members of the South Carolina Black Activists Coalition and others spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Activist Justin Hunt said Wilson’s news conference could have been summarized with a simple statement: “Black lives do not matter.”
“Madame solicitor, this was an opportunity to redeem yourself after refusing to convict Michael Slager at the obvious evidence, who is currently doing 20 years now, so that makes you a hypocrite,” Hunt said, referencing the case in which Slager, a former North Charleston Police officer, fatally shot Walter Scott.
Hunt said Wilson, in a news conference after announcing she would not file charges against Slager, said it was not her job to control police policy and procedure, yet pointed out that in Monday’s news conference, she blamed police policy and procedure on the circumstances that preceded Sutherland’s death.
“We will never forget what you stated yesterday to the black community,” Hunt said. “And you stated, and let’s be clear, that black lives do not matter to us.”
Hunt said they only asked for one thing and that was to hold the officers accountable. He said activists and protesters followed the rules after video of Sutherland’s final moments were released.
“We applied for every permit [to protest]. Nothing was violent. So those of you who tried to tie us to violence, those of you who say that, look we follow the rules and look what happened: We still got no justice,” Hunt said.
Hunt said they want Scarlett Wilson out of office and called for her to resign.
“Justice in this case, justice for Amy Sutherland, justice for their family, justice for our community means that someone gets charged and tried for murder,” Pastor Thomas Dixon said.
The activists said they wanted the deputies punished for Sutherland’s death, but said former Sheriff Al Cannon, former Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas and the lieutenant who ordered Sutherland to be removed from his cell to be punished as well.
Sutherland, 31, died on Jan. 5 at the Al Cannon Detention Center after becoming unresponsive as deputies forcibly removed him from his cell. The deputies initiated the forcible removal so Sutherland could attend a bond hearing on an assault charge that morning.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Monday she could not file criminal charges in the case because she would be unable to prove criminal intent on the part of the two deputies.
Wilson said the Charleston County jail guards in January were following their aggressive training in handling inmates, so she could not prove the guards intended to kill Sutherland.
“I understand people will have a hard time with the decision not to prosecute,” Wilson said, adding that she can’t bring a case she knows she cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt. “And I cannot prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt in this case.”
SPECIAL SECTION: Jamal Sutherland Death
Detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle, who were initially placed on administrative leave then allowed to return to administrative duty, were terminated in May after the release of video of the incident.
Wilson also asked Use of Force Expert Gary Raney to weigh in on the case. He criticized the sheriff’s office’s policies and specific actions that morning.
“Consider though, two people expected to go in and forcibly remove somebody who we can foresee is likely to be violent. This is unheard of in jails of the United States to send two people in to do a forcible cell extraction on one person. And that sets the stage for what happened,” Raney said.
He said there was “a failure of policy, training and supervision” at the jail, but said the deputies had done this many times.
“You can shoot bullets in the air 99 times and nothing would ever happen,” Raney said. “But the 100th time could kill somebody.”
However, Wilson said she asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate the case to determine whether Sutherland’s civil rights were violated.
The FBI confirmed Monday afternoon they had a pending active investigation in the case, but would not comment further.
Amy Sutherland and her family said Monday justice was denied when Wilson decided not to file charges in her son’s death. Sutherland and her family said they were very disappointed with the decision not to prosecute and had hoped charges would be forthcoming.
“You killed my child and I’m going to talk about it until the day I go,” she said.
The family along with their lawyer, attorney Mark Peper, called on state leaders to pass excessive force laws and wanted accountability in the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.
Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.