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$10 Million Settlement in Taser Death of Mentally Ill Man in South Carolina Jail

by David M. Reutter

The death of a Black man who was Tasered multiple times at South Carolina’s Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston is the latest case to raise questions about law enforcement’s use of force in dealing with mentally ill prisoners. Likewise, the continued assertion that Tasers constitute “non lethal” force when their use keeps killing people.

Video released in mid-May 2021 shows guards at the jail pepper spraying and tasering Jamal Sutherland, 31, on January 5, 2021. Sutherland’s family took him to a local mental health center on December 31, 2020, hoping to get him into a safe environment that could treat his mental illness.

Sheriff’s deputies were called on January 4, 2021, to the Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center after calls reported a “large scale fight” that had “erupted between patients and staff.” While police were responding “Jamal became agitated” and intervened in an effort to help, said Mark A. Peper, an attorney for Jamal’s family. “Given the confusion, he is alleged to have committed a misdemeanor offense of simple assault on a nurse staff member.”

Sutherland was due to appear on the morning of his death for a bond hearing. Guards say he took “an aggressive stance” and armed himself with a spoon when they asked him to submit to handcuffing through a hole in his cell door so he could be taken to appear before the judge.
Video shows Sutherland yelling, “I’m warning you, I’m warning you.”

About 15 minutes later, guards pepper sprayed Sutherland twice. Guards then opened the cell door and tasered Sutherland. He was instructed to get on his stomach and slid to the door. “What’s the meaning of this,” he asked. As guards enter the cell and force Sutherland to the ground, he said, “I’m not resisting, officer.”

The sound of the Taser is heard on video and Sutherland is seen flailing around. “He got tased about six to eight times, at least,” one guard said. Guards handcuffed Sutherland and moved his motionless body into a wheelchair. A medic arrived and EMS was called. They spent 35 minutes trying to revive Sutherland. He died at the jail.

“He was already afraid and confused about the situation, and there was nobody in there to talk to him with any compassion, to try to reason with him and let him know what was going on,” said James Sutherland, Jamal’s father. “If they had brought in somebody that maybe was neutral, that was not an officer, maybe a mental health person, could have been a nurse, somebody that was less threatening, they probably could have deescalated that situation. But that didn’t happen.”

In June, a $10 million settlement was reached with the family. Of the total amount, $9 million was for the survival claim for injuries suffered, and $1 million was for wrongful death.

In July, it was announced that charges will not be filed against the jail guards who involved, detention deputy Brian Houle and detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett. See: Amy Sutherland v. Charleston County, Charleston County, Sheriff’s Office, and City of North Charleston, Case Number 2021-CP-10-2812, Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Common Pleas. 



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