State Watch

Mentally ill man was tased several times by SC police in jail before his death, footage shows

Body camera footage released by a South Carolina sheriff’s office this week revealed that a Black man with a mental illness was tased and pepper-sprayed several times by officers before he died in January in police custody. 

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office late Thursday released hours of footage to the public from the Jan. 5 incident, in which police attempted to forcibly remove 31-year-old Jamal Sutherland from his cell for a bond hearing. 

Authorities said that Sutherland was arrested the day before after a fight broke out at a psychiatric facility where he had been receiving treatment for diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. 

The footage was initially withheld from the public until the family of Sutherland gave permission for its release, according to Sheriff Kristin Graziano.

The video showed police shouting at Sutherland to get on his stomach before the man can then be heard saying he can’t get up.

Afterward, Sutherland did not respond to requests from officers to come to the door of the cell to be handcuffed. 

The man began yelling as one of the deputies attempted to handcuff him, after which Sutherland was shocked and pepper sprayed several times, causing him to scream in pain. 

The officers can be seen in the footage attempting to gain control over Sutherland before putting his hands behind his back and handcuffing him. 

One of the deputies then placed his knee on Sutherland’s back for more than two minutes, when Sutherland could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” 

Officers then lifted Sutherland into a wheelchair, at which point he appeared unresponsive. 

He was later pronounced dead after an hour of failed resuscitation attempts, according to The Washington Post

The county coroner’s office later revealed in an autopsy report that Sutherland had died as a result of an “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process,” according to local NBC affiliate WBCD

In her Thursday statement, Graziano called Sutherland’s death a “horrible tragedy,” adding that it has “revealed an opportunity to review existing policies” and examine ways to “improve safety for our staff members and the residents of our detention center.” 

“In my career as a law enforcement professional, I have seen my fellow officers take on mental health responsibilities that they are not equipped to handle,” she added. “This must be changed, and I am committed to implementing that change.” 

Graziano noted in addition to the issues facing her department, there are similar “systemic” ones that “our nation is facing on a daily basis.” 

Sutherland’s mother, Amy, in a news conference Friday condemned the actions from the deputies, who were placed on administrative leave following the incident. However, the deputies still remain employed at the sheriff’s office as it conducts an internal investigation, the Post reported. 

“Mental illness doesn’t give anybody the right to put their hands on my child,” Amy Sutherland said Friday. “That’s my child. I loved my child.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) responded to the body camera footage in a statement shared on Twitter Friday, writing, “The video of this incident reveals issues which need to be addressed in training, procedures, and policies around law enforcement’s encounters with those experiencing mental illness.” 

“Jamal’s mother, Amy, has bravely challenged us all to learn from her son’s tragic death,” he continued. “We will do so.”

Tags body camera footage Charleston deaths in police custody henry mcmaster mental illness NBC police use of force South Carolina The Washington Post

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