In SummaryThe family of the Black man who died in a detention center after being pepper-sprayed multiple times is asking for charges to be brought against the officers involved in his death.
WARNING – This story contains details and videos of police violence. Resources for those triggered by this coverage are available here.
The family of Jamal Sutherland, a Black man who died at a detention center in South Carolina, is calling for charges against the officers involved in his death.
On January 5, 2021, Sutherland died at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center. He was in custody at the facility, waiting for a bail hearing for a misdemeanor assault charge related to an incident at a mental health facility.
According to The New York Times, video released in May from inside the center shows the sheriff’s deputies pepper spraying and tasing Sutherland after he didn’t respond to orders. 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.” After attempts by medical staff to save him, he was pronounced dead on the scene.
In June, the Charleston County coroner changed Sutherland’s cause of death from undetermined to homicide, CNN reported.
Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano identified the officers involved as Sergeant Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle. Both officers were fired for their involvement in May.
Sutherland struggled with mental health issues, and the availability of mental health professionals at the facility was a problem revealed after Sutherland’s death. His mother, Amy Sutherland, said her son did not deserve the treatment he was subjected to.
“Mental illness does not give anybody the right to put their hands on my child,” she 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.”
Ben Crump, who is representing Sutherland’s family, spoke out about Sutherland’s mental health challenges. “We all know what the truth is that they unjustly killed this young Black man who was having a mental health crisis,” he said. “It wasn’t like this was a hardened criminal. This was a child who needed a helping hand but yet he got tasers, and pepper spray, and knees in the back, and a spit mask when he could not breathe.”
According to CNN, Sutherland’s family submitted a letter to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson requesting the state look into the case with a special prosecutor. Additionally, they reached out to the Department of Justice for assistance. Crump is hoping the officers will be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here.