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Death of Jamal Sutherland in police custody sparks outrage, calls for reform

"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," his family attorney said

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Screenshot of footage released by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office relating to Jamal Sutherland's death. (Photo: FOX Carolina News)
By: Alyssa Wilson

The death of Jamal Sutherland, a Black man with mental health issues in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, is amplifying calls for police reform. Video footage of the incident that happened in January was released Thursday after the family requested it be made public.  

Sutherland was scheduled to attend a bail hearing for a misdemeanor assault charge related to an incident at a mental health facility. The video shows sheriff’s deputies from Charleston County pepper spraying and tasing Sutherland after he didn’t respond to orders, The New York Times reported. After attempts by medical staff to save him, he was pronounced dead on scene 

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In the video, Sutherland can be heard screaming in pain and yelling phrases like “What is the meaning of this?” “I’m not resisting, officer.” “I can’t breathe.” Deputies say he was tased “six to eight times.”  

The two deputies involved in Sutherland’s death were initially suspended for 30 days. They are now serving in administrative roles, CNN reported. Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano, who began her role as sheriff on the day of the incident, released a statement on Twitter calling the incident a “tragedy” and asserting that the department will “review existing policies.”  

The jail has a contract with a health provider that employs one mental health professional, but Graziano said she was not sure if that person was on duty during the time of Sutherland’s death. “It’s not enough. We have 750 people in there, we have one mental health professional, and it’s just not enough,” Graziano said during a press conference held Friday.  

An internal investigation into the incident is currently underway. Graziano said she anticipates the investigation “will be concluded soon,” but she did not specify when.  

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 “Mental illness does not give anybody the right to put their hands on my child,” Amy Sutherland, Jamal’s mother, said. “I want y’all to know Jamal was a great man. He had faults like everybody else, but he was a great man. I’m content that God has Jamal.”  

If you or someone you know is struggling with trauma triggered by this story, mental health resources are available here.