Amy Sutherland speaks at a press conference downtown May 27 | Skyler Baldwin photo

Amy Sutherland said the $10 million settlement to be paid to her family by the county will not buy her betrayal of others working to prevent future deaths of people like her son, 31-year-old Jamal Sutherland, who died Jan. 5 in custody at Charleston County’s Al Cannon Detention Center.

“My platform will be ensuring no other mother has to go through my tragedy,” Amy Sutherland said last week after Charleston County Council unanimously approved the May 25 settlement. “The entire system failed my child,” she said.

Jamal Sutherland was arrested Jan. 4 after North Charleston police officers were called to investigate a fight at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, a mental health and substance abuse center. He was booked into jail on charges of third-degree assault and battery.

Video recording released May 13 showed that deputies attempting to take Sutherland to a virtual court appearance on Jan. 5, used pepper spray and repeatedly Tased him before he became unresponsive and died.

Jamal Sutherland was jailed the night of Jan. 4 and died about 10 a.m. the next morning, but family did not learn about his incarceration and death late that afternoon, his mother said.

To learn more, it took further outcry, she said.

In April, various activist groups that individually had been protesting the incident began to combine efforts.

“The case of Jamal Sutherland is tragic and highlights the need for criminal justice reform particularly in the area of mental illness in jails and prisons,” read an April 16 joint statement issued by a coalition of local civil rights groups. “As America awaits justice in the case of George Floyd, we see Charleston’s law enforcement culture is no different.”

Mark Peper, an attorney for the Sutherland family, said Jamal Sutherland’s schizophrenia and bipolar disorder should have precluded him from being held in a non-medical area of the jail and characterized officers’ use of force as unnecessary and excessive.

“It’s harsh the way we treat people who are not as well as we are,” Amy Sutherland said.

“(The deputies) were dead wrong. That’s why we didn’t have a fight (to get the settlement),” Amy Sutherland said.

Jamal Sutherland’s family members inquired about his death immediately after they were notified, but ultimately it was public pressure that led to more information being released, Amy Sutherland said.

“We had no idea he had been incarcerated. People on the street knew about his death before we did. It was four months before we knew exactly what happened to him,” she said.

Sutherland said her mission now is to ensure greater transparency about the incarceration of the mentally ill.

“There need to be advocates who can communicate with relatives and records must be kept meticulously,” she said.

Amy Sutherland contrasts her son’s arrest with the treatment of Dylann Roof, the convicted Emanuel AME Church murderer.

“They took Roof to dinner when my son asked for his meds. I don’t understand how the system let this happen” she said.

Police handling Roof’s apprehension said they took the convicted murderer Burger King after his arrest as he fled Charleston on June 19, 2015.

Families should be notified when relatives suffering mental illness are incarcerated, Amy Sutherland said.

“Neither Palmetto nor anybody else called us. We took him to Palmetto and if there was a problem, we would have picked him up. When I took him there, I had no idea I would never see him again,” she said. “If he wasn’t well enough to go home, how was he well enough to go to jail?”

“There have got to be a lot of changes,” Amy Sutherland said, “on the part of hospitals, law enforcement and legislators. We have got to ensure that people don’t die today and are forgotten after payment of a settlement.”