Video footage released late Thursday night documents the final minutes of Jamal Sutherland’s life while detained at Charleston County’s Al Cannon Detention Center in January.
Among the more than two dozen videos released are those that show Sutherland became unresponsive after two jail officials deployed stun guns, gas and used physical restraint in an attempt to subdue the man who was due in bond court the morning of Jan. 5 on suspicion of misdemeanor assault at a psychiatric hospital.
Sutherland, a 31-year-old Black man from Goose Creek, was receiving mental health treatment at the hospital when he was arrested.
The video footage was distributed to local media late Thursday, shortly after the family requested the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office make it available. Sheriff Kristin Graziano previously said the video was being withheld at the request of the family. Local activists and community advocates spent much of the last week urging Graziano, who was sworn in the day of Sutherland was arrested, to release the footage and make good on campaign pledges of transparency.
Sutherland was booked at the county jail Jan. 4 after being arrested by North Charleston police on assault charges stemming from an incident at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, where he was receiving psychiatric treatment, according to attorney’s statements to local media.
Surveillance and body cameras documented booking and death
Video released Thursday depicts Sutherland as he’s booked into the county jail off Leeds Avenue and the struggle the next morning, ending with his death.
Sutherland was turned over by North Charleston police to be processed into the jail off just before 8:15 p.m., Jan. 4. Handcuffed and wearing a tie-dye T-shirt, dark pants, jail-issued sandals and a surgical mask under his chin, surveillance video shows six officers — three heavily armed — escorting Sutherland to his cell in the jail’s behavioral management unit, intended to house individuals with mental health needs. For most of the time Sutherland is documented on officers’ body-worn cameras, he is heard yelling at those nearby, saying he needs his medicine and claiming he’s being watched.
The next morning, body-worn camera footage by Detention Deputy Brian Houle and Sgt. Lindsay Fickett shows Sutherland appearing to ignore officers’ requests to be handcuffed for his trip to bond court.
After a few requests, at 9:29 a.m., one officer sprays gas into the cell as Sutherland yells at them. The two officers prepare to enter the cell.
At 9:34 a.m., Houle opens the door and Fickett fires a Taser, which shoots two metal probes into Sutherland’s skin, connected to a battery in the handheld device that sends electrical current through his body. Knocked to the floor by the Taser’s shock, Sutherland sits up and moves toward the door at the officers’ requests, but stops as he gets closer.
“What is the meaning of this,” Sutherland asks as he moves toward the door of his cell.
After refusing to lay on his stomach, Houle moves in to physically restrain Sutherland at 9:35 a.m. Answering Houle’s requests to comply, Sutherland is heard saying, “I am not resisting, officer.” Soon, a stun gun is heard and Sutherland yells in pain. As the struggle continues, more clicks from at least one stun gun are heard and Fickett begins helping to restrain Sutherland.
At various times, videos show both Houle and Fickett on top of Sutherland in an apparent attempt to restrain him during the struggle. At one point, a knee is placed on Sutherland’s upper back, near his neck.
As they prepare to move Sutherland out of his cell, he attempts to flail and appears to say, “I can’t breathe.”
After the officers move Sutherland out of his cell and try to position him in a restraint chair at 9:41 a.m., he is unresponsive. Along with medical staff already nearby, they check for a pulse and take his blood pressure before he’s moved to the ground and a medical team begins chest compressions.
The two officers told others nearby that Sutherland remained combative throughout their attempts to detain him. As a result, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound man was likely Tased six-to-eight times during the struggle, one deputy said.
Eventually, EMS arrives and chest compressions are continued using a mechanical device. At 10:25 a.m., the machine was turned off.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said in a May 11 statement that pathologist J.C. Upshaw Downs concluded the exact cause of Sutherland’s death was “undetermined,” but said he died “as a result of excited state with pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.”
Graziano said in a statement earlier this week that internal and external investigations were underway related to the incident. Deputies directly involved with the incident were placed on leave in January, Graziano said, and have since been reassigned to administrative duties.
Wilson said she’s pursuing additional information in the incident and that she has briefed state and federal officials as well.