South Carolina politicians reacted with anger, sadness and disbelief to graphic footage released Friday by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office that depicts Jamal Sutherland’s death at the Charleston County jail earlier this year.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, whose district includes Charleston, called the video of sheriff’s deputies jolting Sutherland repeatedly with a stun gun and dragging his limp, handcuffed body out of a holding cell “horrific” and former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham said it was “no way to treat a human being.”
Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted a statement calling Sutherland’s death a tragedy and saying it revealed issues with law enforcement training and policies that needed to be addressed.
Sutherland, who struggled with mental illness, had been due in bond court the morning of Jan. 5 on a misdemeanor assault charge, but according to conversations captured on a jail officer’s body camera, had been unwilling to leave his cell. Videos released Thursday show that officers ultimately resorted to using what appeared to be pepper spray and a stun gun to subdue him, after which they removed him from the cell.
“Jamal was in custody. He was alone in a jail cell. He was not a threat to anyone in that moment,” Mace said in a statement. “No one deserves the death penalty for missing a bond hearing or for being a mental health patient.”
At the time of his death, Sutherland, 31, had been locked up for about 12 hours, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said. North Charleston police had arrested him the day prior following a fight at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, where he had been admitted for mental health treatment.
“Once again, we are faced with the inescapable reality of yet another preventable death of an unarmed black man in America,” said Cunningham, who has announced he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano released the video of Sutherland’s jailhouse death late Thursday night, amid mounting public pressure.
She said she had withheld it the past four months at the request of Sutherland’s family.
“We agree it is clearly time for the public to view what happened,” Graziano said in a statement Thursday, calling Sutherland’s death a tragedy and expressing regret that it happened on her watch. Graziano was sworn in as sheriff the day of Sutherland’s arrest, one day before his death.
“In my career as a law enforcement professional, I have seen my fellow officers take on mental health responsibilities that they are not equipped to handle,” she said. “This must be changed, and I am committed to implementing that change. These are systemic issues that our nation is facing on a daily basis.”
Mace on Friday called for the FBI and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to conduct a full investigation into Sutherland’s death and hold accountable anyone found to be responsible.
“I am committed to working with our local community, state and local agencies, our law enforcement, and my colleagues, to pursue reforms which will ensure no other family has to face the pain Jamal’s family is feeling today,” she said in a statement.
“I am also committed to working to ensure our law enforcement agencies have the resources and support they need for better training, especially when it comes to the mental health crisis our country faces today.
“How we handle mental illness can mean life or death.”