Civil rights attorney seeks charges over inmate’s death

Oct 19, 2021, 12:25 PM | Updated: 1:09 pm
FILE - Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is joined by family members of victims of racial injustice a...

FILE - Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is joined by family members of victims of racial injustice at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 29, 2021. The prominent civil rights attorney is calling on a South Carolina prosecutor to revisit a case and criminally charge the two jail employees who stunned a mentally ill Black man 10 times and kneeled on his back until he stopped breathing. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson previously said the Charleston County jail deputies who were seen on surveillance video restraining Jamal Sutherland wouldn’t face charges because she couldn't prove the guards intended to kill him. Crump says there's enough evidence to bring involuntary manslaughter charges against the guards, who were both fired in May. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A prominent civil rights attorney on Tuesday demanded that a South Carolina prosecutor revisit a case and criminally charge the two jail employees who stunned a mentally ill Black man 10 times and kneeled on his back until he stopped breathing.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced in July that the Charleston County jail deputies who were seen on surveillance video restraining Jamal Sutherland wouldn’t face charges. Wilson called the deputies’ actions “damning,” but said she couldn’t prove the guards intended to kill Sutherland, who at the time was refusing to go to his bond hearing.

Attorney Ben Crump joined Sutherland’s relatives outside Wilson’s office to call on the solicitor to reconsider her decision, arguing she had gathered enough evidence throughout her monthslong investigation to charge the former deputies with involuntary manslaughter.

“We all know what the truth is — that they unjustly killed a young Black man who was having a mental health crisis,” Crump said. “He had committed no crime. It wasn’t like he was a hardened criminal. This was a child who needed a helping hand.”

The Florida-based attorney has represented the families of a number of Black people who have died at the hands of police and vigilantes in recent years. He compared Sutherland’s death to two cases he has litigated — the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. The deaths of those men were also captured on video, and charges were eventually filed in both of those cases.

Sutherland, 31, had been booked into the jail the day before his death on a misdemeanor charge. Officers had arrested him while investigating a fight at the mental health and substance abuse center where he was receiving treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His death drew national attention after county officials released video of the incident months later.

Amy Sutherland, Jamal’s mother, expressed frustration Tuesday over the number of times the family met with Wilson’s office as the investigation moved forward, saying it seemed like the decision not to charge the deputies was predetermined.

“Scarlett Wilson could have done so much more,” Amy Sutherland said. “She’s shammed us just like she shammed y’all. We were in and out that office, in and out that office, in and out that office — and no time did we ever hear one encouraging word.”

Wilson’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano was sworn into office the day before Sutherland died. She has promised wide-ranging changes to jail operations, including how those with mental illnesses are treated.

Four months after Sutherland’s death, Graziano fired Charleston County Detention Center Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and detention Deputy Brian Houle. Charleston County also agreed to pay a $10 million settlement to Sutherland’s family.

Wilson had said the jail employees were merely following training that had fostered a “militaristic culture” at the jail. She said that prior to the incident, the guards tried to talk Sutherland into voluntarily going to the hearing for 15 minutes, asking supervisors if they could do something other than attack him. But they received no help, so the deputies did what they were trained to do, Wilson said — use the Taser or pepper spray.

But that rationale wasn’t adequate to Crump, who said the guards shot Sutherland with a stun gun too many times and for too long, and then put a “spit mask” on him: “At some point, it just becomes reckless, reckless, reckless,” Crump said.

In the videos released in May, a deputy enters Sutherland’s cell, trying to handcuff him. The deputies stun him and, with the electrodes still on Sutherland, a second officer fires the stun gun again.

Sutherland can be heard saying, “I’m not resisting, officer.”

Sutherland was eventually placed in handcuffs with a deputy’s knee on his back for more than two minutes. “I can’t breathe,” Sutherland said.

Attorney Carl Solomon also said one of the deputies involved has a history of excessive use of force, noting Fickett was sued by a former inmate in 2016 over improper use of his stun gun. That federal suit, which also named former Charleston Sheriff Al Cannon and several other deputies, was settled in 2019.

Officials said in July that a federal investigation remained open to see if Sutherland’s civil rights were violated.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A pedestrian makes his way in front of a gated Warren E. Burger Federal Building as jury selection ...
Associated Press

The 18 jurors picked for federal trial over Floyd’s killing

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Eighteen people were picked to hear the federal case against three former Minneapolis officers who are charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights during the May 2020 arrest that led to the Black man’s death. Twelve jurors will deliberate and six are alternates. Most of the jurors appear to be […]
20 hours ago
Workers bag cardboard and other discarded items at a Union Pacific railroad site on Thursday, Jan. ...
Associated Press

Governor vows state help in cracking down on LA rail theft

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is promising statewide coordination as law enforcement and prosecutors go after thieves who have been raiding cargo containers aboard trains near downtown Los Angeles for months, leaving the tracks blanketed with discarded boxes. The governor on Thursday joined a cleanup crew from the state Department of Transportation […]
20 hours ago
This combination of book cover images shows "The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois" by Honorée Fanonne J...
Associated Press

Whitehead, Jeffers among Book Critics Circle nominees

NEW YORK (AP) — Colson Whitehead’s “Harlem Shuffle,” Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ “The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois” and a debut story collection by Anthony Veasna So, a promising writer who died before his book was published, are among this year’s nominees for National Book Critics Circle awards. Other nominees range from Torrey Peters’ acclaimed first […]
20 hours ago
Pennsylvania's Lia Thomas is shown during the playing of the national anthem before a swim meet, Sa...
Associated Press

Penn pledges to work with NCAA, support transgender swimmer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The University of Pennsylvania said it will work with the NCAA under its newly adopted standards for transgender athletes. Swimmer Lia Thomas, who competed for the men’s team at Penn before transitioning, has qualified to compete in March at the 2022 NCAA swimming and diving championships. She is set to race in […]
20 hours ago
FILE - A man walks by the logo on a Toyota car at a showroom in Tokyo on Oct. 18, 2021. The shortag...
Associated Press

Toyota production in Japan hit by parts crunch from COVID-19

TOKYO (AP) — The shortage of parts caused by the coronavirus pandemic is further denting production at Toyota, Japan’s top automaker. Production at 11 plants in Japan will be halted Friday, Saturday and next Monday, Toyota Motor Corp. said. That comes on top of reductions planned for February that were announced earlier. Those reduction will […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Yemen loses internet connection after Saudi-led airstrike

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Yemen lost its connection to the internet nationwide early Friday after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a site in the contested city of Hodeida, an advocacy group said, plunging the war-torn nation offline. NetBlocks said the disruption began around 1 a.m. local and affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly that controls internet […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

HVAC upkeep in Arizona saves money, keeps families prepared in the long run

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Facebook Photo/NHTSA)...
Sweet James

Upcoming holiday season is peak time for DUI arrests

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most dangerous time of the year to be driving. That’s why it’s important to remember to call Sweet James Accident Attorneys if you’re injured or arrested because of a DUI accident.

What you need to know about spine health

With 540 million people suffering from lower back pain, it remains the leading cause of long-term disability. That’s why World Spine Day on Oct. 16 will raise awareness about spinal health with its theme, BACK2BACK. “BACK2BACK will focus on highlighting ways in which people can help their spines by staying mobile, avoiding physical inactivity, not overloading […]
Civil rights attorney seeks charges over inmate’s death