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SC News

Jamal Sutherland’s Family Continues Calls for Justice

FILE -  Jamal Sutherland's mother Amy surrounded by family at a press conference May 14th, the day after the body cam video of his death was first released.  The press conference was held at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston where Sutherland died.
Victoria Hansen
/
SC Public Radio
FILE - Jamal Sutherland's mother Amy surrounded by family at a press conference May 14th, the day after the body cam video of his death was first released. The press conference was held at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston where Sutherland died.

The family of a mentally ill Black man who died behind bars after being restrained by white deputies took to the streets of Charleston Wednesday afternoon, less than a day after they were awarded $10 million as part of a civil settlement.

Lawmakers, community activists and protesters surrounded Amy Sutherland as she demanded justice for her son, Jamal, in front of the solicitor’s office downtown.

“They must punish,” Amy Sutherland said. “They must punish for what they did to my baby.”

In January, the Sutherland family was worried about the 31-year-old who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. So, they checked him in to a mental health facility where they thought he was safe.

But after a fight, Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health in North Charleston called police. Sutherland was arrested Jan. 4 and taken to the Al Cannon Detention Center.

Graphic bodycam video released just weeks ago, shows what happened the next day as deputies tried to take Sutherland from his cell for a bond hearing.

He seems confused. He asks deputies demanding he come out, “What’s the meaning of this?” They tell him to stay down and turn on his stomach. They shout at Sutherland as they handcuff him to stop resisting. He says he’s not.

The deputies stun Sutherland at least six times with a taser and use pepper spray. A knee can be seen on his back. At one point, Sutherland says, “I can’t breathe.” Eventually, his body goes limp.

Shortly after the video was released, two deputies once on administrative leave were fired.

The Sutherland family says that’s not enough. They want former Detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle arrested and charged with a crime.

9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson says she’s considering it and has asked for outside, expert help tackling key questions like how Sutherland died. Wilson says she must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the former deputies are guilty of taking Southerland’s life.

But late Tuesday, on the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Charleston County Council acted without waiting for criminal charges. Members voted unanimously to award the Sutherland family a civil settlement of $10 million dollars.

“We know no amount of money will bring their loved one back, but I think this starts the healing process,” Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said.

Councilman Brantley Moody reflected on the vote too, adding his decision didn’t come without reservations.

“It was a terrible injustice. But how do you settle it? I’m not sure what the answer is.”

Community activist Pastor Thomas Dixon says he’s pleased by the council’s swift action.

“They must have been able to see something was terribly wrong. They don’t give ten million dollars away.”

But Dixon says the injustice continues because the former deputies involved have not been charged. He wants to know why the video of Sutherland’s death wasn’t released sooner.

Back in front of the solicitor’s office in the heart of downtown Charleston, Amy Sutherland is asked by a reporter about that $10 million civil settlement.

She struggles for words. She’s grateful for the council members who voted for it, but says, it shouldn’t have to be this way.

“I shouldn’t have to get an award because you killed my child.”