SC Black Caucus calling on investigation following report of sheriff’s office monitoring posts
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus is calling on state authorities to investigate the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office following a Live 5 News story involving emails showing the sheriff’s office was monitoring social media posts of activists a day before the release of the Jamal Sutherland video.
“I am outraged and deeply troubled by the report that the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office labeled peaceful, law-abiding leaders of our state as security threats,” said SCLBC Chair Rep. Patricia Henegan. “At best—the actions of the Sheriff’s office reveal a prejudice against these community leaders because of their willingness to advocate for fairness and justice for Black South Carolinians and, therefore, for all South Carolinians. At their worst— the actions of the Sheriff’s Office are a dangerous and unwarranted assault upon the rights of those whom they should be protecting.”
Sheriff’s office employee Willis Walker wrote in a May 12 email to command staff at the sheriff’s office the following message: “The Security Threat Analysis Unit is actively monitoring Social Media and News Outlets regarding any information related to the death of Jamal Sutherland.”
Walker’s email, which was released by Charleston County in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, includes multiple screenshots of social media posts from State Representative Wendell Gilliard and community activists such as Kwadjo Campbell and Justin Hunt.
The social media posts by all of those included asked for the body camera footage showing Sutherland inside the jail to be released.
On Saturday, Henegan said the surveillance of Gilliard and activists demands an “immediate” investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division into the Charleston County Sheriff Office surveillance units and processes.
“Throughout Rep. Gilliard’s distinguished career in public service, he has stood for the equal treatment and rights of our state’s working people, including all races, colors, and ethnic groups,” Henegan said. “Rep. Gilliard loves Charleston and Charlestonians. He has been a tremendous leader and voice for Charleston, particularly Black Americans, whose mistreatment has been documented and reported throughout our country’s history.”
The sheriff’s office declined a request for an interview for the original story, referring questions to the SEAHAWK Interagency Operations Center, which has not yet responded. SEAHAWK is run by the Coast Guard, according to a Joint Base Charleston representative.
It is not yet clear how often activists and elected officials are monitored on social media by local law enforcement agencies.
Back in January, Sutherland died less than 24 hours after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge at a North Charleston facility serving people with mental illnesses.
While inside the sheriff’s office’s jail, Sutherland declined to go to a bond hearing that he was not legally required to attend. He 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.
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