Mentally Ill Man Dies While in Custody, Investigation is Underway

Riiver Nihil

 Footage was released last week of a mentally ill man who lost his life at the hands of officers at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Jamal Sutherland, 31, was allegedly suffering an episode due to his mental illness when officers went to retrieve him for a court bond hearing on January 5, 2021.

Sutherland had reached out to family in December 2020 for assistance with his declining mental health. Family members had checked him into an in-patient psychiatric care facility. Despite feeling helped by the facility while in treatment, Sutherland had an altercation with a nurse labeled “simple assault.” On the day of his death, Sutherland was supposed to have a bond hearing regarding this incident.

The bodycam footage shows what happened leading up to and the events surrounding Sutherland’s death. At first, Sutherland can be heard yelling, and even appears to say, “I’m warning you,” to the guards. The yelling switches to what seems to be confusion, and this is where many say the story takes a turn.

The video shows Sutherland pacing his cell and not understanding the directions being hollered at him by officers.

The officers are efficient in telling the cameras and each other that Sutherland has a spoon in his hand. However, it is not known if they neglected a possible cause of his behavior. Sutherland could be having an episode and cannot understand their requests to comply.

They open the cell door twice to spray him with pepper spray to no avail. Officers are heard coughing while Sutherland can be seen still standing.

The situation escalates. They open the door and tase Sutherland, shouting for him to lay down and slide on the floor towards the door. It is hard to confirm this with the footage as Sutherland verbally responds. He asks, “What is the meaning of this?” He potentially does not understand what is happening and continues to slide towards the door in a seated position.

Officers asked him to turn on his stomach as he reaches the door. “For what?” Sutherland says as he does his best to comply, but the space near the door is cramped. “That’s as far as I’m turning.”

The officer with the body cam storms in and grabs Sutherland to handcuff him, telling him, “Do not resist!” It is not clear in the video whether Sutherland is resisting or not. In his heightened state, the officer is shouting that Sutherland is resisting causing another officer to then tase him.

Sutherland falls to the ground in agony as the officers continue to use force to restrain him.

It appears that Sutherland is unconscious as they drag him out of the cell, though they shout another “Stop resisting” request before he goes limp.

They hoist his body up into a wheelchair and remove the netting they’d previously placed over his face to find him unresponsive. The video ends as they are checking his pulse and removing him from the wheelchair.

Sutherland died as a result of an “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process,” according to the county coroner.

“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. “Their efforts were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr. Sutherland was suffering as a result of mental illness. Since this tragedy occurred, we have assessed our resources and are evaluating options for global improvement, including a focus on mental health awareness.”

The two officers responsible were initially placed on administrative leave for 30 days. They are currently on desk duty while Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has her office reviewing the case to see if anyone will be criminally charged before the end of June.

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