The death of a black man in a prison after police used a stun gun and pepper spray on him has sparked outrage and calls for changes in the treatment of mentally ill inmates.
Images released Thursday night show Charleston County police officers as they pull Jamal Sutherland out of his cell on January 5, then use a taser and pepper spray on the man, who screams in pain. Sutherland was pronounced dead soon after.
On Friday (14), the strong images led to complaints about the actions of the officers. Excerpts from the video – in one of them, a policeman kneels on Sutherland’s back, while the prisoner says “I can’t breathe” – refer to other recent episodes of police violence against black people who sparked movements for racial justice and police reform in the country. USA.
“Jamal Sutherland was treated like an animal by prison officials, who ignored his altered mental state,” a statement issued by a coalition of South Carolina activist groups said Friday. According to the note, the video of the death revealed the inhumane conditions to which Sutherland was subjected, “which undoubtedly aggravated his state of mental disorder.”
The two Charleston County law enforcement officers who interacted with Sutherland, Lindsay Fickett and Brian Houle, were fired and local prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said she was reviewing the findings of an investigation. Wilson said he had to decide by the end of June to file a criminal complaint against the officers.
Civil society leaders on Friday called for calm for the people of Charleston and the surrounding area. In May 2020, there were protests in the area, with depredations and looting, after a police officer killed an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis. “We understand that the emotions are running high and the concerns are justified, but it is important that we approach the episode as a community, in a calm and united manner,” said Teddie Pryor, chairman of the Charleston County Commission. .
Sutherland was in a mental health unit, but was arrested at the scene on January 4 after a scuffle. Unit officials told police that he assaulted a member of the team. He and another patient were arrested on charges of assault.
Sutherland was then taken to Charleston Jail. Footage of him on the day of his arrest shows the inmate in an outbreak, shouting “free me” and speaking about conspiracy theories, with references to the Illuminati, groups (real and fictitious) who lived centuries ago and who had special knowledge.
The next morning, Fickett and Houle went to Sutherland’s cell to take him to the bail hearing. Body images of officers and security cameras have been released by Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano. She said she expected the Sutherland family to allow the disclosure.
In the video, officers repeatedly ask Sutherland, who was screaming in his cell, to come to the door and cooperate. At one point, when they start to pull her away from the scene, one of the agents says that medical professionals are there. Scenes show the officers throwing pepper spray into the cell twice and closing the door after each – and urging him to leave. Then they open the door and start yelling at him to lie on the ground on his stomach.
In the footage, Sutherland appears to be slowly crawling towards the cell door, but not face down. One of the officers tries to handcuff him. At this point, the video shows him screaming and struggling as officers attempt to dominate him. Hit by a taser, he begins to squirm with electric shocks. An officer has his knee on the detainee’s back. “I can’t breathe,” he said.
In the end, officers were able to handcuff him and place him on a chair, but by then he appeared to have passed out. Houle said Sutherland was hit by the taser between 6 and 8 times.
Democratic state senator Marlon Kimpson said police officers were apparently not trained to deal with mentally ill inmates. “It seemed like a violation of protocol – otherwise we have to change the protocol,” he said. Gov. Henry McMaster, who is a Republican, said in a statement that Sutherland’s death was “a tragedy.” reveals issues that need to be addressed in training, procedures and policies that need to be adopted for police officers dealing with people with mental disorders.