The county coroner has attributed Sutherland’s death in North Charleston, S.C., to what was described in his autopsy as an “excited state” with unfavorable effects from prescription drugs while police attempted to subdue him. But Sutherland’s manner of death remains “undetermined,” according to the coroner.
The two deputies involved, Lindsay Fickett and Brian Houle, were placed on administrative leave, but they remain employed with the sheriff’s office. An internal investigation of the fatal encounter is ongoing.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has indicated that she expects to announce whether to file charges against the deputies by the end of next month.
The release of the footage, which came after pressure mounted against authorities to share video of Sutherland’s final moments, triggered protests this week and spurred outrage from the victim’s family and activists, who condemned the deputies’ response to a man in need of help.
“Mental illness doesn’t give anybody the right to put their hands on my child,” said mother Amy Sutherland at a Friday news conference. “That’s my child. I loved my child.”
After the release of the footage, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano announced Friday changes to better address the needs of inmates suffering from mental illness, including a policy to ensure that those in custody get the medications they need. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) said in a Friday statement that Sutherland’s death revealed how issues needed to be addressed surrounding “training, procedures, and policies around law enforcement’s encounters with those experiencing mental illness.”
Graziano called the events of Jan. 5 a “horrible tragedy,” saying her department’s responsibility was “the safety of Jamal Sutherland.” “As sheriff, I regret that this occurred,” she said in a news release. “I will continue to work with our judicial system, health care professionals, and community to ensure we are continually improving our processes and promoting the safety of all our residents and staff.”
The newly released video of Sutherland’s death is the latest fatal encounter involving law enforcement and people struggling with their mental health. The family of a Navy veteran in Antioch, Calif., filed a legal claim against the city’s police department in February, saying law enforcement killed Angelo Quinto, 30, in the middle of a mental health crisis by kneeling on his neck for nearly five minutes in December. A grand jury declined to indict police officers in Rochester, N.Y., for the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who was pinned to the ground last year while handcuffed, hooded and in the throes of a mental health crisis.
Sutherland was arrested Jan. 4 after a fight broke out at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, a mental health facility. Sutherland, who reportedly indicated days before that he had been hearing voices, was accused of third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor, reported the Charleston Post and Courier. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said in a video statement posted this week that police “safely” transferred Sutherland from the facility to the Al Cannon Detention Center.
Body-cam footage shows the deputies, Fickett and Houle, shouting at Sutherland to get on his stomach so he can be accompanied to a bond hearing at around 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 5. Sutherland, who is not initially visible in the video, is heard yelling and says to the officers that he can’t stand up. Sutherland ignored the requests of officers to come to the door of his cell to be handcuffed, according to video.
“Inmate is refusing to open the door, refusing to cuff up, taken an aggressive stance,” one of the deputies says in the body-cam footage. “He’s already said we have to use force on him.”
When one of the deputies attempts to handcuff and subdue Sutherland, the 31-year-old is heard yelling and thrashing, video shows. Moments later, Sutherland is shocked with a Taser multiple times and shrieks in pain.
“I’m not resisting, officer,” Sutherland says, according to body-cam footage.
It’s unclear how many times Sutherland was shocked, but Houle is later heard on video estimating that the Black man was struck "probably about six to eight times, at least.”
As he was being handcuffed, one of the officers, identified by the Post and Courier as Houle, placed his knee on Sutherland’s back for more than two minutes. Sutherland is heard on the video pleading to the officers: “I can’t breathe.”
Deputies lifted Sutherland, who appeared to be limp, into a wheelchair less than three minutes after they first stood outside his cell.
“Is he all right?” one of the deputies asks.
CPR was performed on Sutherland, but the efforts failed. He was pronounced dead following an hour of resuscitation attempts.
Graziano, who noted that she waited to release the video until she received the blessing from the man’s family to do so, said the deputies’ efforts to remove Sutherland from his cell “were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr. Sutherland was suffering.” But Mark Peper, an attorney for Sutherland’s family, slammed the measures taken by law enforcement.
“The video speaks for itself,” Peper said in a news conference outside the jail. “He is clearly, clearly experiencing mental health issues that cannot be adequately addressed at a detention center.”
His sentiment was echoed by a coalition of South Carolina activist groups in a statement Friday, who said Sutherland “was handled like an animal by correctional officers who had no regard for his altered mental state.”
An emotional Amy Sutherland fought back tears Friday as she told reporters how proud she was of her son. She also hoped people could learn from watching the video: “Please, no more hurt.”
“I want y’all to know Jamal was a great man. He had faults like everybody else, but he was a great man,” she said at the news conference. “I’m content that God has Jamal.”
A previous version of this article noted that police knelt on Angelo Quinto's neck for more than five minutes. It was nearly five minutes. A photo caption also incorrectly spelled the last name of Jamal Sutherland. This article has been corrected.