Authorities in South Carolina released graphic footage Thursday, showing how a Black man with a mental illness died in January after two sheriff's deputies pepper-sprayed him, used a stun gun multiple times, and restrained him with knees on his back while trying to remove him from his jail cell.
Jamal Sutherland, 31, died on Jan. 5, only 12 hours after he was jailed at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center, following attempts by Charleston County Sheriff’s deputies to take him to a bond hearing for a misdemeanor assault charge.
On Thursday night, the sheriff's office released hours' worth of cellphone, bodycam, and surveillance footage at the request of Sutherland's family, Sheriff Kristin Graziano said in a statement.
Graziano called Sutherland's death a "horribly tragedy" that prompted her office to review existing policies and focus on mental health awareness.
"Our officers removed Mr. Sutherland from his cell that morning in order to ensure that he received a timely bond hearing, as required by law," Graziano said. "Their efforts were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr. Sutherland was suffering as a result of mental illness."
The circumstances and evidence in Sutherland's in-custody death have "raised serious concerns and begged many questions," said Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who is reviewing the case, in a statement Tuesday.
Wilson said she will decide whether there will be criminal charges in the case before the end of June.
The two deputies involved in Sutherland's death, Lindsay Fickett and Brian Houle, were placed on administrative leave with pay following Sutherland's death.
The day before he died, Sutherland was arrested and put in a cell at the detention center's behavior modification unit after he was accused of being involved in a fight at the mental health facility his parents had checked him into. The next morning, deputies at the detention center were scheduled to take him for his bond hearing.
In the footage, one of the deputies is heard saying that Sutherland was refusing to open his cell door and had taken an "aggressive stance." The deputy said the judge required Sutherland to appear before him. Their "extraction" plan involved a medical team standing by, the deputy can be heard saying.
The footage shows deputies ordering Sutherland to drop to his knees from outside his cell door, but he refuses. The deputies then open the door and pepper-spray him twice. At one point, one of them fires a stun gun at him from the door, after which he is seen on the ground.
The deputies order him to get on his stomach and slide toward the cell door.
"What is the meaning of this?" Sutherland is heard asking, as he moves slowly toward the door.
At some point, the two deputies attempt to handcuff Sutherland and order him not to resist.
The videos show a struggle during which the deputies repeatedly used a stun gun on Sutherland while he continuously cries out in pain.
An attorney for Sutherland's family, Mark Peper, said Friday that Sutherland was struck nine times from two separate stun guns in the span of a minute and was being held in the prone position by the deputies, one of whom put a knee on Sutherland's back for at least two minutes.
At one point in the footage, Sutherland is heard saying, "I can't breathe."
He is also heard saying, “I’m not resisting, officer.”
After he is handcuffed, the deputies are seen putting a "spit mask" over Sutherland's head and dragging him outside the cell, at which point he appears to be limp. He is then restrained in a wheelchair.
The footage shows a medical team doing chest compressions on Sutherland, who is seen lying on the ground, for about 20 minutes before he is pronounced dead.
“He got tased probably about six to eight times at least,” one of the deputies is heard saying as medical aid is being rendered.
Wilson said Sutherland became unresponsive and died during his "forced removal from the cell."
According to Wilson, pathologist J.C. Upshaw Downs ruled the manner of death as "undetermined" but opined that Sutherland died as "as a result of excited state with pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process."
Downs said his review of the incident did not reveal any "unusual or excessive interactions or areas of direct concern."
In a press conference Friday, Peper, the Sutherland family's attorney, said the videos showed an "unnecessary and excessive use of force."
"Jamal Sutherland's last question on this earth was 'What is the meaning of this?'" Peper said. "You have my word, and the word of the Sutherland family... and all of the community's word that we will answer this question."
He said people with mental health issues were entitled to the same civil rights as everyone else and questioned why Sutherland was put in a detention center that could not "adequately address" his issues.
Sutherland's mother, Amy Sutherland, called him a "great son" and a "man of God."
"Remember, he is a human being. He is not an animal,” she said. “He was treated like one, but that’s not who he was."