Solicitor Seeking Expert Opinions on SC Jail Death Reports
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina prosecutor says she is pursuing outside opinions after reviewing official reports on the January jail death of a man with mental health issues.
Authorities have said that for months they had been looking into the death of Jamal Sutherland, a 31-year-old Black man who was booked into the Charleston County jail on Jan. 4. Video clips released by Charleston County officials last week show deputies the following morning repeatedly deploying stun guns and kneeling on Sutherland's back before he stops moving. An hour later, Sutherland was dead, officials reported.
On Tuesday, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced she was seeking external experts to weigh in on findings from an investigative report produced by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and an official autopsy report from the coroner's office.
Both of those reports raised questions for Wilson, requiring her team to follow up on “several issues,” she said in a statement.
“The video in this case is disturbing. I have lived with its sights and sounds for months,” Wilson said. “In addition, the exposure of mental health care failures is maddening. For those working in the justice system, it is not shocking.”
Sutherland was originally booked on charges of third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor. His parents had placed him at Palmetto Behavioral Health, a mental health and substance abuse center, citing his schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Officials said they were called to investigate a fight at the center and arrested Sutherland as a result.
Wilson has yet to say whether she intends to prosecute the case, though she promised to do due diligence and bring justice to both the Sutherland family and to “any suspects in this investigation.”
Because the state law enforcement division did not release an opinion on whether "unlawful conduct" caused Sutherland's death, Wilson is now seeking “renowned expert advice and opinion regarding force in a detention setting," as well as a second opinion on the pathologist's findings in the autopsy, she said. The local coroner has not released a specific cause of Sutherland’s death.
Two deputies involved in the case, Lindsay Fickett and Brian Houle, have been fired, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said Monday. Also Monday, protesters in Charleston called for Wilson to charge the deputies with murder or recuse herself from the case, news outlets reported.
Wilson indicated that she will not publicly detail all evidence available to her, citing the need to preserve the integrity of the investigation.
“If there were to be criminal charges and a trial, however, the trial would be in a court of law, not a court of public opinion or human emotion,” Wilson said.
Wilson has previously said that she expected to decide whether to file charges by the end of June. An attorney for relatives of Sutherland said they are pursuing civil litigation.