A recently released police body cam video depicts the death of a mentally ill man as South Carolina sheriff’s deputies repeatedly pepper-sprayed and tased him in the moments before he died. Although the inmate was confused and resistant at first, he appeared to be complying with the deputies’ orders when they incessantly began tasing him.
On the evening of January 4, North Charleston police officers responded to a “large scale fight” that had erupted among patients and staff at Palmetto Behavioral Health, a psychiatric facility where Jamal Sutherland was receiving mental health treatment. Sutherland was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge and transported to the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center.
Around 9:15 a.m. on January 5, Detention Deputy Brian Houle and Sergeant Lindsay Fickett along with other staff members were recorded on body cam video attempting to remove Sutherland from his cell and present him before a bond court judge. Clearly confused and agitated, Sutherland refused to exit the cell while continuing to shout at the deputies.
After Sutherland was repeatedly pepper-sprayed, he appeared to calm down and began complying with their orders to remain on the floor while sliding toward the doorway. As he neared the cell door, Sutherland asked, “What’s the meaning of this?”
The deputies responded by commanding Sutherland to turn over onto his stomach. Instead, he began coughing again before agreeing to turn around and place his empty hands behind his back.
As Sutherland remained sitting on the ground with his fingers interlocked behind his back, the deputies cuffed his left wrist before ordering him to “loosen up.” Sutherland responded, “Officer—”
Without warning, the deputies interrupted Sutherland by incessantly tasing him for nearly a minute as he writhed in pain on the floor. After cuffing his hands behind his back, the deputies placed a spit hood over his face and dragged his motionless body out of the cell.
Immediately after strapping Sutherland into a restraint chair, a staff member checked his pulse due to the fact that Sutherland no longer appeared to be breathing. The deputies began removing Sutherland’s handcuffs and other restraints as medical staff attempted to resuscitate him.
Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal announced that the official cause of death was “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.” The coroner’s office said the manner of death is currently “undetermined.”
Deputy Houle and Sergeant Fickett were immediately placed on administrative leave for several weeks and have since been reassigned to administrative duties. They currently do not face any criminal charges.
“The evidence surrounding Mr. Sutherland’s death has raised serious concerns and begged many questions. I have retained experts who may be able to shed more light on Mr. Sutherland’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, to include potential culpability of those in law enforcement,” Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson stated.
“Our officers removed Mr. Sutherland from his cell that morning in order to ensure that he received a timely bond hearing, as required by law,” Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said in a statement. “Their efforts were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr. Sutherland was suffering as a result of mental illness. This unfortunate tragedy has revealed an opportunity to review existing policies.”
“Mentally ill, still able to say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, take care of me,’” Amy Sutherland, Jamal’s mother, told reporters on Friday. “I want y’all to know Jamal was a great man. He had faults like everybody else, but he was a great man.
“I don’t want any violence in my city. I want us to view this tape and I want us to learn what we don’t want happening here.”