By MICHELLE LIU Associated Press/Report for America
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two sheriff’s deputies involved in the January death of a South Carolina inmate with mental health issues have been fired, days after the release of video clips showing deputies repeatedly deploying stun guns and kneeling on the man’s back before he stops moving.
Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano announced Monday that she was terminating detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and detention Deputy Brian Houle for their involvement in the death of Jamal Sutherland, a 31-year-old Black man booked into the jail on Jan. 4.
“Today, I made the decision to terminate the two detention deputies involved in this case,” Graziano said in a statement Monday. “I must weigh the interest of public safety for the community against any incident that creates even the perception of an impairment to the operation of the Detention Center for the safety of all residents, staff and our Community.”
Clips released by Charleston County last week show the deputies repeatedly using stun guns on Sutherland after he refuses to come to the door of his cell to be handcuffed when deputies arrive to take him to a court appearance. After Sutherland ignores repeated commands to kneel, deputies enter the cell and pepper spray Sutherland, ordering him to get on his stomach, video shows.
Footage shows one deputy placing a knee on Sutherland’s back for more than two minutes as Sutherland is eventually handcuffed. “I can’t breathe,” Sutherland says.
An hour later, officials pronounced Sutherland dead.
In January, officials released a statement on Sutherland’s death, noting that deputies had “reported an unresponsive inmate” and notified state police, as is standard. At the time, the two deputies were placed on administrative leave with pay.
As of last week, Graziano said the two deputies remained with the department, “re-assigned per policy to administrative duties.” Local prosecutors have said charges are possible but they need more information. A local coroner has not released a specific cause of Sutherland’s death.
Sutherland’s death occurred just a day after Graziano, who pledged a slew of reforms to reshape the 900-person department and build community trust, was elected to serve as sheriff.
Graziano said last week that she had held the video’s release in deference to the wishes of Sutherland’s family but that it was now “clearly time for the public to view what happened.”
Sutherland was originally booked on charges of third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor. Officers said they were called to investigate a fight at Palmetto Behavioral Health, a mental health and substance abuse center, and arrested Sutherland as a result.
An attorney for the Sutherland family said Friday that Sutherland’s schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were so severe that he should never have been held in a nonmedical portion of the jail, and that the videos portrayed a “use of force that was so unnecessary and excessive that there are no words.” He said the family is pursuing civil litigation.