Family of Jamal Sutherland speaks on their fight for charges in his death

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 3:10 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2022 at 5:27 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The family of the man who died in custody a year ago at the Al Cannon Detention Center is speaking about their journey as they demand criminal charges against detention deputies.

Jamal Sutherland was 31 when he died at the jail on Jan. 5, 2021. He became unresponsive as Charleston County detention deputies forcibly removed him from his cell so he could attend a bond hearing on an assault charge.

Amy and James Sutherland, his parents; and Jamar, his brother, spoke at a news conference earlier on Thursday outside the office of Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who declined to file criminal charges in that case.

They were joined by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and family members of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Duante Wright, who were victims in recent high-profile cases.

Amy Sutherland said their presence was “like a favor from God.”

“God has allowed us to get together and have others come and help us because we need help,” she said. “Today would have been year since Jamal was buried. Tomorrow would have been his birthday. The longer I see everybody else getting justice, it seems unfair.”

Floyd died in May 2020 after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against his neck as Floyd, who was handcuffed, said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for Floyd’s murder.

Arbery, 25, died after three white men chased him in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, was sentenced to life with the chance of parole after serving 30 years in prison.

Wright was fatally shot by a Minneapolis Police officer who said she mistook her handgun for her Taser during a traffic stop. Former officer Kimberly Potter was found guilty of manslaughter in Wright’s killing. One of the jurors said they felt she made an honest mistake when she drew her firearm instead of her stun gun, but that she was still responsible for his death.

Amy Sutherland had harsh words for Wilson, who said she could not press criminal charges because she did not think she could convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the deputies acted with criminal intent.

“I’d rather be on a stand where there’s saying ‘not guilty’ than no punishment at all,” she said. “We want to hear ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty,’ but we want a judge and a jury to decide that.”

“We’re holding on to faith,” James Sutherland, Jamal’s father, said. “I believe that justice denied is only justice delayed.”

Crump said he feels racism plays a role in all of the cases, including Sutherland’s.

“The common denominator is that they were unarmed black men, that law enforcement or quasi-law enforcement used excessive force to end their lives, and it’s undeniable that you can look at the biased treatment of not only how these officers killed these individuals, but you have to look at the biases in the criminal justice system, how hard we have to fight to get equal justice,” he said.

The reason the Floyd, Arbery and Wright cases stand out, he says, is that they got their day in court.

“For all three of these cases, we can give you 300 in that time where the facts were just as egregious (as) Jamal Sutherland, exhibit one, and nobody was even charged,” he said. “We don’t want it to become the high standard for a Black person in America to get justice when they’ve been killed unjustly by law enforcement or those who are former law enforcement by having a video camera. That’s such a high standard. There won’t be video footage in most of the killings.”

However, he said, the video was the “game-changer” in the Floyd, Arbery and Wright cases.

Crump questioned why the officers haven’t been arrested so they can have due process.

“We’re not asking that the police officers who killed him also gonna be denied due process. We want them to have their day in court. They are innocent until proven guilty,” Crump said. “But my God, we want Amy and James to have their day in court for their child. That is what we call being fair being just be equal. The Constitution of the United States of America says that Amy and James Sutherland should have their day in court, and that’s what we’re fighting for, to make the Constitution real to all Americans, no matter whether they’re Black or white.”

The group gathered at Charity Missionary Baptist Church at the invitation of the Rev. Nelson Rivers III, who also spoke at the news conference.

They agreed to speak separately after the news conference on their continuing fight for justice for Sutherland.

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