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State health inspectors visited mental health facility unaware of Jamal Sutherland’s death

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2021 at 6:49 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - More than seven months after Jamal Sutherland’s death inside the Charleston County jail, new documents from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control showed health inspectors visited Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health where he was arrested while seeking treatment for a mental illness as he was dying.

The unannounced visit to the facility was apparently unrelated to Sutherland’s arrest. It wasn’t until months later that DHEC would be informed about the incident inside Palmetto that led to staff calling 911.

Instead, DHEC showed up to the facility on the morning of January 5th to do an unannounced inspection because of two complaints about COVID-19 protocols and safety. Documents showed they started their investigation at 10:30 a.m., around the same time Sutherland laid dying on the floor of the Al Cannon Detention Center.

DHEC found no violations related to COVID-19 safety protocols during their visit after interviewing staff members and looking through staff records.

Documents showed it wasn’t until a complaint was filed months later, in May, that DHEC discovered Jamal Sutherland was taken to jail after an incident at the facility.

Two other complaints were sent into DHEC after Sutherland’s death. One said that Palmetto was a “ticking time bomb for a sentinel event due to staffing issues.” A sentinel event, according to the Joint Commission, would be something that results in death or serious harm. That complaint cited “inappropriate staffing ratios” and called on DHEC to take the matter seriously.

“I fear someone will get seriously hurt if this continues,” the complainant stated.

The other complaint filed in May urged DHEC to look into Palmetto’s security. The complainant said the facility needed to hire security guards.

“Palmetto will continue to call 911 due to the lack of security,” the complaint stated. “Told that behavioral health facilities are not required to have security.”

Much of the complaint is redacted, but it states that security could have helped the facility avoid an arrest and death, though it’s not clear if they are referring to the incident involving Jamal Sutherland.

No violations came from DHEC’s investigations of the staffing or security complaints, and Palmetto CEO Timothy Miller said those citations were unsubstantiated.

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