Excessive Force on Mentally Ill Black Man Results in Death


Jamal Sutherland, a mentally ill individual, was repeatedly pepper sprayed and tased by deputies. In custody death
Jamal Sutherland

Charleston County Sheriff’s Office

(SC) – The new sheriff at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is facing a police violence incident in her agency. The very day Sheriff Kristin Graziano “began her duties as sheriff,” two deputies used excessive force on a mentally ill inmate which resulted in his death.

On January 5, a judge ordered that Jamal Sutherland be brought before him for a bond hearing. Mr. Sutherland had been brought from a mental health facility and had been in the jail for approximately 14 hours. Sutherland’s mental state was starting to deteriorate, more than likely because his prescription medication began to wear off.

Policy and Procedures Need Revising.

The video of the incident shows a shocking amount of incompetence. I’m going to point out a couple of problems, though there were way more than just a couple. A mentally ill inmate was picked up for assault (I’ll explain that further down). Because of the charge, the deputies know he can be violent. So they give him his food on a hard plastic tray instead of a Styrofoam one? That’s foolish, it’s giving him something he can use as a weapon. One of the deputies mentions that Sutherland is still holding a spoon. I can’t tell if it’s a metal one or plastic. Hopefully, it’s at least plastic spoon.

The other major procedure issue I see are the weapons. What the heck were they thinking going into a cell wearing long guns? What if the inmate, mentally ill or not, had gotten one of the guns away from an officer? That is a tragedy waiting to happen. And what’s with all that equipment? Being overburdened like that inhibits movement. When a person feels ‘disadvantaged’ it tends to increase their fight or flight response. Their perception of being in danger is increased.

Poor Training and Police Brutality are a Deadly Combination

Force is supposed to be used proportionally. Mr. Sutherland was agitated, but he was not threatening the officers. In fact, he never made any aggressive moves towards them. The first thing the officers do is open the cell door and pepper spray Mr. Sutherland. That is the officers escalating the use of force. Sutherland moves to the back of the cell and tries to wipe his face. The officers tell him to take the cloth off his face. When he does, they pepper spray him, from the doorway, again. They were not in danger. This is not a justified use of force.

While Mr. Sutherland tries to clean his face again, it appears one of the officers tases him. Sutherland falls to the ground, screaming in pain. (FYI – Here, at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, policy is not to tase someone who has been pepper sprayed). The deputies then proceed to tase Mr. Sutherland 6 – 8 times while they attempt to handcuff him. While tasing him, they are yelling at him to relax, which is an impossibility when being tased. Something the deputies definitely should know.

At several points they kneel on his back. Mr. Sutherland says “I can’t breathe.” Then a deputy places a spit mask over Mr. Sutherland’s head. Mr. Sutherland’s limp body is dragged out of the cell. Medical staff is called, then emergency personnel. They are unable to revive 31-year old Jamal Sutherland.

Per PostandCourier.com,

Axon, the company that makes Tasers, a brand of stun gun, specifically calls for law enforcement officers to not use them on people with mental health conditions. 

A Cry for Help

Jamal Sutherland went to his family for help. They were able to get him checked into a mental health center on December 31. On January 4, two other residents were involved in a fight. When police officers arrived, Mr. Sutherland became  agitated.

According to CNN,

“Given the confusion, he is alleged to have committed a misdemeanor offense of simple assault on a nurse staff member” at the center, Peper said.

That’s what Mr. Sutherland was in jail for. Simple Assault. Basically, a ticket. It could have been something as minimal as shoving someone.

Cause of Death and Civil Rights

Per Post & Courier,

The county coroner attributed Sutherland’s demise to an “excited state” with adverse effects of prescription drugs as deputies tried to subdue him. His manner of death remains undetermined and under investigation, according to the coroner. 

The vast majority of people are NOT in perfect health. Mr. Sutherland was on prescription medication that was being administered by mental health personnel. Regardless, his death report will include prescription drugs as one of the factors in his death. You can bet that will be used against his family in a wrongful death lawsuit. A lawsuit I hope they file, because this very much was a wrongful death.

Mr. Sutherland deserved to be treated in a manner appropriate to his condition.

Deputies Involved in the Murder of Jamal Sutherland

Per the Post & Courier,

Lindsay Fickett and Brian Houle, are still employed with the Sheriff’s Office. They have been reassigned to desk duty and an internal investigation is ongoing, which could determine their future with the agency. 

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has said she expects to make a decision on whether to file charges by the end of June.


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