State Watch

SC deputies fired after pepper-spraying, using stun gun on mentally ill man in jail

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An empty prison cell is seen in this Aug. 30, 2018, file photo. Several bills pending in Congress would attempt to correct sentencing disparities.

Two law enforcement officials who pepper-sprayed, shocked with a stun gun and restrained Jamal Sutherland, a Black man with a mental illness who died in January in police custody, have been fired, officials announced Monday.

“Today, I made the decision to terminate the two detention deputies involved in this case,” Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said in a statement on Twitter on Monday.

“I must weigh the interest of public safety for the community against any incident that creates even the perception of an impairment to the operation of the Detention Center for the safety of all residents, staff and our community,” she said.

The statement identified the employees as Sgt. Lindsay Fickett, who has been employed with the sheriff’s office since 2011, and Detention Deputy Brian Houle, who has been employed with the sheriff’s office since 2016.

Body camera footage released by the South Carolina sheriff’s office last week shows law enforcement officials attempting to forcibly remove Sutherland, 31, from his cell for a bond hearing.

Officials on Monday did not immediately confirm the nature of the fired employees’ involvement in Sutherland’s death, or if additional employees will be fired.

Graziano said last week that she suspended the deputies and had 30 days to make a decision on their employment status, WCSC in South Carolina reported.

The graphic footage shows Fickett and Houle shouting at Sutherland to get on his stomach, before the man can be heard saying that he can’t get up, according to reports. Sutherland did not respond to requests from officers to come to the door of the cell to be handcuffed, and he was shocked and pepper-sprayed several times and can be heard screaming in pain.

The Post and Courier identified the law enforcement officials who used a stun gun on the man and pepper-sprayed him as Houle and Fickett.

A deputy, identified by the Post and Courier as Houle, can be seen placing his knee on Sutherland’s back for more than two minutes, and the man can be heard saying “I can’t breathe.”

Sutherland was pronounced dead after an hour of failed resuscitation attempts. The county coroner’s office later found in an autopsy report that Sutherland died of an “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.”

Graziano last week called Sutherland’s death a “horrible tragedy,” noting that it “revealed an opportunity to review existing policies.”

“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.”

Tags Jamal Sutherland police brutality South Carolina

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