The family of Jamal Sutherland, joined by Black Lives Matter and the Racial Justice Network (RJN) organizers, held a small rally outside Solicitor Scarlett Wilson’s office Wednesday afternoon, calling for justice in the death of Jamal Sutherland, a Black man struggling with mental illness who died in police custody in Al Cannon Detention Center in January.
“There are people who should have been accountable from the day my son was murdered,” said Jamal’s mother Amy Sutherland. “We should not be wondering what we’re going to charge them with, we should be wondering when we’re going to charge them.
“They should have been the charged the day he died,” she said.
Two deputies directly involved with Jamal Sutherland’s death were fired since the video footage was released May 13, but remained on desk duty after a brief leave following the incident four months ago. Amy Sutherland maintains her son’s death should be considered a murder, and that justice would only prevail if the six officers present are charged as such.
“I’m ex-military; he was treated like a P.O.W.,” Amy Sutherland said. “Now that you’ve treated him that way, I ask that we, as a country, punish those that killed my baby.”
Jamal Sutherland died Jan. 5, shortly after deputies attempted to forcibly remove him from his holding cell for a bond hearing on assault charges stemming from an incident at hospital where he was seeking treatment for mental illness. Body camera footage shows Sutherland being pepper sprayed and shocked with a Taser and stun guns before becoming unresponsive while deputies restrained him.
Wednesday’s event came a day after Charleston County Council agreed to a $10 million settlement with the Sutherland family. Amy Sutherland said she was grateful, but felt guilty about accepting the settlement, saying it felt like she was trading the memory of her son for monetary gain.
Representatives from the RJN reiterated the Sutherland’s families demands, and further stated that the trust in the justice system of Charleston had been broken, and the transparency promised by the county’s law enforcement system has been nowhere to be found.
“I’m sending a message to Wilson: We want a conviction,” said RJN president James Johnson. “Enough is enough. You promised transparency … and you’ve let the people down.”
Wilson said on May 11 she expects to have information needed to determine whether charges will be brought by the end of June.
Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said the settlement could set the stage for changes.
“This has been a very difficult time for all of us in the Charleston community. Jamal’s death has led to understandable grief and pain for his family and friends,” Pryor said in a statement Wednesday. “It is indeed my hope, my prayer and sincere commitment that his unfortunate passing will lead us as a community and as elected leaders to recognize and address the growing challenges facing those in our community who struggle with mental health.
“While this settlement will not stop the continued hurt, we must begin to heal and have meaningful interactions that allow space for necessary changes,” he said.