Sheriff deputies seen on video using a Taser on Black man who died in jail cell

Jamal Sutherland, 31, was arrested on 4 January after a fight broke out at the psychiatric facility where he was receiving treatment

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Saturday 15 May 2021 18:47

Footage released on Friday shows a Taser being used on Jamal Sutherland multiple times in a South Carolina jail cell

New footage has revealed the actions taken by sheriff deputies in the hours before a 31-year-old Black man died in custody in South Carolina.

On the tape, two deputies can be seen repeatedly using a Taser on inmate Jamal Sutherland as they forcibly attempt to remove him from his cell at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.

Mr Sutherland was arrested on 4 January, 2021 after a “large-scale fight” broke out at a psychiatric facility where he was receiving mental health treatment. He died a day later while in the custody of Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.

The footage shows deputies asking for Mr Sutherland to approach his cell door on the morning of 5 January. When he appeared to refuse, a deputy then used a Taser on the man, causing him to fall to the ground.

“What is the meaning of this?” Mr Sutherland was heard asking.

Deputies attempted to handcuff the man while he lay on the ground while using a Taser on him multiple times. Reports also indicate that pepper spray was used during the altercation.

At one point the 31-year-old was heard saying “I can’t breathe” before he became unresponsive.

Mr Sutherland was pronounced dead an hour later after medical staff made attempts to revive him, the sheriff’s office said in a statement at the time.

The coroner’s report declared cause of death as “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process”, according to local news channel WBCD.

The exact manner of his death has yet to be determined “as the investigation into the death of Mr. Sutherland remains open and is still active,” the coroner’s office said.

The new footage was made public on Thursday at the request of Mr Sutherland’s family. At a press conference, the young man’s mother, Amy Sutherland, called for no violence after the release of the tape.

“I want us to view this tape and I want us to learn what we don’t want to have happen again. I ask no violence. We have black men being killed every day,” she said.

Ms Sutherland added: “Mental illness does not give anybody the right to put their hands on my child.”

The tape has raised questions about law enforcement’s use of force and how officials should respond to someone who suffers from a mental illness.

The Sutherlands’ attorney, Mark A. Peper, said: “People with mental health issues are entitled to the same exact civil rights as you and me and every other healthy, wealthy person in this world.”

Mr Sutherland suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, his family said on Friday, which was why he was at a psychiatric facility.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano described Mr Sutherland’s death as a “horrible tragedy”.

“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,” the sheriff 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.”

The two deputies involved in the incident were initially suspended for 30 days and were now on desk duty. They have not been formally named.

Charleston County Sheriff’s Office policy had stated that deputies must take detainees to bond hearings but that has since been changed. There is now an option for those being held in custody to attend court hearings via a video link using a computer tablet from their cell.

“Since this tragedy occurred, we have assessed our resources and are evaluating options for global improvement, including a focus on mental health awareness,” Sheriff Graziano added.

Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office was reviewing the case and would decide if criminal charges will be brought before the end of June.