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Sheriff Graziano: I will ‘absolutely not’ rehire jail deputies who tased Jamal Sutherland

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 2:57 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 6:18 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In her first interview since the announcement that the two former jail deputies involved in Jamal Sutherland’s death will not face state criminal charges, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said that they will not get their old jobs back.

“Absolutely not,” Graziano said. “They had every opportunity to stop doing what they did at any point without fear of retribution. They could have just stopped and we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

Graziano’s announcement comes more than two months after she fired Detention Sergeant Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle. At the time, she wrote that she would consider rehiring them depending on the outcome of related investigations.

Sutherland died in January at the Charleston County’s Sheriff’s Office’s detention center after jail deputies forcibly removed him from his cell.

Sutherland had refused to go to a bond court hearing that he was not legally required to attend. He had been arrested less than 24 hours earlier by North Charleston Police on a misdemeanor charge at a facility serving people with mental illnesses.

Although videos of Sutherland’s death were requested the day he died, footage revealing that he had been tased, pepper sprayed, and restrained multiple times was not released until months later.

When asked why it took so long for the videos to be made public, Graziano said in part, “There was nothing nefarious about it. It was just the process that was in place.”

Graziano noted that she wanted to release the videos sooner, but that investigations first needed to be completed. She also said that she signed an agreement with the Sutherland family that footage would not be released until mediation was completed with their civil lawsuit.

Graziano became Charleston County’s sheriff the day before Sutherland died. She said that on her first full day of work, she had only been in the office for three hours before finding out about his death. Within days, she says she saw one of the body camera videos of the incident.

“I was aware after reviewing the videos that this person that came into our facility was in crisis, and I wasn’t there,” Graziano said. “It was difficult to watch that we really didn’t use all the tools that were available to use to resolve that situation. I lost a lot of sleep over that and I’m sure the family did as well. It’s just a tough pill to swallow.”

“There’s a point in your life where humanity has to intervene with your actions,” she added.

Asked whether she has any regrets over her handling of this case, Graziano, who previously declined multiple requests for on-camera interviews, said that there was nothing that she could have done sooner and that she believes that she has been transparent.

The FBI is currently conducting an investigation that is related to Sutherland’s death, but Graziano said Thursday that she has not been interviewed by FBI agents about the matter.

Gary Raney, the use of force consultant hired by the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office to research how Sutherland died and make recommendations, said Tuesday that a similar incident could still happen at the jail again and that even if Graziano fully implements all of the changes that he is suggesting, it would take a couple years before they become effective.

Graziano disagreed with Raney’s assessment of the detention center, but said she has focused on making adjustments, such as providing de-escalation training for detention deputies, allowing bond hearings to be conducted remotely from jail cells, implementing a mental health flagging system, and learning about behavioral health practices in other jurisdictions.

“Jamal’s death will not be in vain,” Graziano said. “The changes that we are already making and will continue to make will be because we don’t want any other family to go through what this family went through.”

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