Deputies involved in Sutherland death were repeatedly flagged for use of force

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 7:55 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 8:08 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Newly released documents show that the two Charleston County jail employees who were fired months after Jamal Sutherland’s death had each previously been flagged repeatedly for use of force.

Memos released by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that use of force flags were raised by a Charleston County Sheriff’s Office system at least seven times for Detention Sergeant Lindsay Fickett and at least eight times for Detention Deputy Brian Houle during their years with the jail’s Special Operations Group.

The flags for Fickett involve matters such as the use of a taser and emergency restraint chair while Houle’s flags primarily relate to using restraint chairs.

Back in January, Sutherland was arrested on a misdemeanor charge at a North Charleston facility serving people with mental illnesses. Less than 24 hours later, while inside Charleston County’s detention center, he declined to go to a bond hearing (that he was not legally required to attend) and was then tasered multiple times, pepper sprayed, and handcuffed. Body camera video also showed that a detention deputy placed a knee on Sutherland’s back.

Sutherland died at the jail shortly afterwards.

In an April email to SLED Special Agent Ian Lundell, CCSO Senior Sergeant Dana Herron wrote, “Between December 11, 2015 and January 5, 2021, Sergeant Fickett was involved in 156 use of force incidents, not including Jamal Sutherland’s case,” adding that Fickett deployed her taser in four of those cases.

In a separate email to Lundell, Herron wrote, “Between July 22, 2016 and January 5, 2021, Operator Houle was involved in 143 use of force incidents, including Jamal Sutherland’s case,” noting that the incident involving Sutherland was the only time that Houle deployed his taser.

It appears that no action was ever taken against Fickett and Houle in response to the use of force flags.

Each time that Houle was flagged, detention captains wrote in part, “Because of his assignment to the Special Operations Group, it is understandable that Detention Deputy B. Houle would utilize force more often than that of a basic detention deputy.”

Additionally, in four of the times that Fickett was flagged, Captain A. Grant wrote in part that the use of force incidents in question had been reviewed and that “as a result of this review, I found no concerning patterns or training deficiencies.”

However, Gary Raney, a jail consultant hired by Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, found earlier this year that there were “significant deficiencies” with the Special Operations Group’s training. Raney said that what a training video depicted of Fickett being tasered in 2011 was “ridiculous,” adding that it was more like hazing than training.

Sheriff Kristin Graziano terminated Fickett and Houle in May, writing in part that “it has become evident that your continued employment at the jail at this time has resulted in extreme disruption of operations which has to [sic] potential to jeopardize other residents, personnel and citizens.”

A $10 million settlement between the Sutherland family and Charleston County, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and the City of North Charleston was approved in June. In July, Wilson declined to file any charges in connection with Sutherland’s death.

An FBI spokesperson says that the bureau’s own investigation relating to Sutherland’s death is still ongoing.

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