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Charleston County, SC

South Carolina deputies involved in Jamal Sutherland’s death have been fired, sheriff says

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KVIA ABC-7
KVIA ABC-7
 2021-05-17
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The two deputies involved in the in-custody death of Jamal Sutherland have been fired, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said a statement tweeted by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.

Sutherland died after he was forcibly removed from his jail cell in North Charleston in January. Footage released last week by the sheriff’s office shows deputies pepper spraying and tasing Sutherland, 31, multiple times after he appeared to resist leaving his cell for a bail hearing.

“Today, I made the decision to terminate the two detention deputies involved in this case,” Graziano said in the tweeted statement. “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.”

“The employees are Sgt. Lindsay Fickett, employed since March 2011, and Detention Deputy Brian Houle, since July 2016,” the tweet said.

CNN is reaching out to the deputies and the fraternal order of police for comment on the firings.

The deputies were initially suspended for 30 days and were on desk duty, said Graziano, who was elected in November and began her duties as sheriff the day of Sutherland’s death.

Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has said Saturday her office is reviewing the case and she will decide about whether anyone will be criminally charged “before the end of June.”

Sutherland asks ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ before he died

Sutherland was in jail because of an incident at a behavioral health center on January 4 in which he was accused of committing “a misdemeanor offense of simple assault on a nurse staff member,” according to Sutherland’s family attorney Mark A. Peper.

The incident that ended in Sutherland’s death took place the next day, on January 5, at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.

Footage of the interaction between deputies and Sutherland was released Thursday night at the request of Sutherland’s family, Graziano said.

At the beginning of the footage from one of the body cameras, a deputy is heard saying Sutherland has refused to leave his cell and that he took “an aggressive stance.” The deputy also says a captain has been notified and that the judge required Sutherland appear before the judge. Deputies were going to extract Sutherland from the cell while medical personnel were present, he says on the video.

The video shows deputies asking Sutherland to put his hands through the cell door so he could be handcuffed and taken to court. Sutherland is seen in his cell and heard yelling, “I’m warning you, I’m warning you.” Deputies note Sutherland has a spoon in his hand.

About 15 minutes pass before a deputy deploys pepper spray into Sutherland’s cell. Sutherland is heard coughing and wraps a blanket around his head. Deputies deploy another round of pepper spray a few minutes later, as Sutherland stands in the corner of the cell, covering his face with the blanket.

Deputies soon unlock the cell door and tase Sutherland, who is heard yelling out in pain. While on the ground, Sutherland is ordered to “slide to the door” and “get on your stomach.” Video shows him sitting down, inching toward the door.

“What is the meaning of this?” he asks.

The deputies enter the cell to cuff Sutherland and one tells him not to resist. “I’m not resisting, officer,” says Sutherland. Deputies try to handcuff Sutherland with his arms behind his back, and a deputy says “loosen up” before using his left hand to force Sutherland to the ground.

The sound of a Taser is heard again as Sutherland cries out. He’s seen flat on the ground, his legs flailing as deputies try to gain control, yelling at him, “put your hands behind your back, Sutherland.” A male deputy has a knee on Sutherland’s back between his shoulder blades while a female deputy sits on his lower back, a knee on each side of Sutherland.

Sutherland is eventually handcuffed and slid out of his cell into a common area, where deputies remove Taser barbs from his front and back and lift a motionless Sutherland into a nearby wheelchair. A medic enters the frame, and a deputy asks, “Will you check him?”

The medic checks Sutherland’s pulse and says he’s breathing before asking deputies to put him back on the floor. More medics soon arrive to help, and one says they feel a pulse.

Deputies explain what happened. “He got tased about probably six to eight times, at least,” one says.

EMS is called and paramedics arrive about 12 minutes later, eventually hooking Sutherland up to an automatic chest compression machine. After about 35 minutes of trying to revive Sutherland, the paramedics stop the machine. A few minutes later, a blanket is placed over him.

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