Amy Sutherland speaks alongside attorneys, activists and and family members of Black men who have died in police custody | Credit: Sam Spence

Amy Sutherland composed herself Thursday outside the Charleston County courthouse, a day before her son, Jamal Sutherland, would have turned 33 had he not died in sheriff’s office custody a year ago.

Speaking after family members of Amaud Arbery and George Floyd, other Black men killed in police custody, Sutherland called to Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who determined last year the officers involved with her son’s death would not be charged because of the generous leeway state law affords law enforcement.

“Scarlett! Do the right thing. I can’t take this anymore,” she screamed, facing news cameras.

Attorney Ben Crump, the high-powered civil rights attorney who began representing the family last year, gathered the press conference to mark what would have been Jamal Sutherland birthday by continuing to call for action from prosecutors and state lawmakers.

Jamal Sutherland died Jan. 5, 2021, at Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, where he arrived after local police removed him from a behavioral health facility as he was seeking treatment for mental illness. As the 31-year-old with a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder remained in his cell the morning after his arrival, jail officers from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office attempted to restrain him so he could make a court appearance. Shocking Jamal Sutherland’s body with electrical shocks from a Taser multiple times while on the ground, he eventually became unresponsive and died.

Two deputies involved with the incident were fired, but Wilson explained last year that any attempt to prosecute them for wrongdoing would likely not succeed in state court. Separately, Charleston County reached a $10 million civil settlement with the Sutherland family in June 2021.

Outside the courthouse complex on Thursday, Amy Sutherland said she was committed to forcing Wilson and the state bring some accountability for her son’s death.

“I’ve been nice,” she said. “God did not mean for this to happen to my child.”

Turning to the brother and nephew of George Floyd, who was killed in May 2020 by a police officer in Minneapolis, Amy Sutherland remembered what happened when she tried to show her son the video of Floyd’s death.

“I said, ‘You want to watch this?’ He said, ‘Mom, I can’t watch that. They’re treating him like a dog.’ Little did he know, they’re going to treat him like a dog,” Amy Sutherland remembered.

Former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on multiple counts related to Floyd’s killing and is serving a 22-year prison sentence.

News crews and protesters watch the Sutherland family outside the Charleston County courthouse Thursday afternoon

The Rev. Nelson Rivers, of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, said he and the family have been in touch with Reps. Marvin Pendarvis, D-North Charleston, and J.A. Moore, D-Hanahan, who filed legislation to reform state excessive force laws. Rivers said the proposals face long odds and may not get attention from lawmakers.

“One of the things we face in this community is that they don’t see us. They don’t have to feel our humanity,” Rivers said during the press conference. “But we plan to let them look in our eyes and see the pain and understand what this is about.”

Attorney Ben Crump said the family is planning to visit Columbia in the coming months to lobby for change.

“They say you can’t have a testimony without a test,” Crump said. “We’re going to get justice for Jamal.”