Officials in South Carolina on Friday released hours of body-worn camera footage and details about the final hours of the life of Jamal Sutherland, a Black man who died in January after he was pepper-sprayed and electroshocked with a taser in his jail cell.
Sutherland, 31, was arrested on Jan. 4 after a “large scale fight” broke out at a psychiatric facility where he was receiving mental health treatment, according to a statement from North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey. He said the city police department did its job delivering Sutherland “safely” from the facility to the jail.
The next morning, Charleston County sheriff’s deputies attempted to remove Sutherland from his cell for a bond hearing.
In the video, two sheriff’s deputies are outside Sutherland’s jail cell and one deploys a taser, or stun gun, and appears to use it repeatedly as Sutherland cries out in pain and writhes on the floor.
A timeline of events published by WBCD, an NBC affiliate in Charleston, indicated pepper spray was also deployed. Sutherland was pronounced dead one hour and 15 minutes after the deputies first tried to remove him from his cell and after nearly an hour of resuscitation attempts.
The county coroner’s office said an autopsy showed the cause of death as “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process,” according to WBCD.
Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano described the events of Jan. 5 as a “horrible tragedy” and said she “deferred to the family’s wishes to keep the video private until they were ready.”
“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 in a statement. “Their efforts were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr. Sutherland was suffering as a result of mental illness. This unfortunate tragedy has revealed an opportunity to review existing policies.”
A lawyer for Sutherland’s family, Mark Peper, said on Friday, “People with mental health issues are entitled to the same exact civil rights as you and me and every other healthy, wealthy person in this world.”
Peper said Sutherland’s “last question on this earth” was “what is the meaning of this?”
“We will answer this question,” Peper said.
Fighting back tears, Amy Sutherland, Jamal’s mother, told the media Friday she was proud of her son.
“Mentally ill, still able to say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, take care of me,’” she said. “I want y’all to know Jamal was a great man. He had faults like everybody else, but he was a great man.
“I don’t want any violence in my city,” she continued. “I want us to view this tape and I want us to learn what we don’t want happening here.”