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Who was Jamal Sutherland? Mentally ill Black man's brutal custodial death in South Carolina jail caught on camera

Sutherland's last question was 'What is the meaning of this?' as he desperately struggled with constant tasing and pepper-spraying by the cops
UPDATED MAY 15, 2021
Jamal Sutherland seen in his cell moments before he was tased multiple times by the police (South Carolina Sheriff's Office)
Jamal Sutherland seen in his cell moments before he was tased multiple times by the police (South Carolina Sheriff's Office)

Jamal Sutherland, a mentally ill Black inmate at Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, died on January 5, 2021, sparking reports of custodial brutality. Now, upon his family's request, the South Carolina Sheriff's office has released the surveillance video footage of events leading to his death. The footage shows the Sheriff's deputies pepper spraying and tasing him several times after he refuses to leave his cell for a bond hearing. Later, Sutherland was pronounced dead by the medics at the facility. 

"I want y'all to know Jamal was a great man. He had faults like everybody else, but he was a great man," the victim's mother Amy Sutherland said on Friday, May 14, 2021. She added, "Mental illness does not give anybody the right to put their hands on my child," according to a CNN report. Their family lawyer Mark A Peper said, "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."


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Who was Jamal Sutherland?

Jamal Sutherland was arrested by the police on the night of January 4, 2021, on charges of third-degree assault and battery. The police arrested him after they responded to a call from the Palmetto Behavioral Center about a fight between two patients. Sutherland had tried to intervene and mediate in the fight, but instead, he himself lost his cool and allegedly assaulted a nurse. He had been undergoing treatment at the center for the past few months. 

"No person who is not mentally sound, shall be confined to the custody of a detention center, or state prison," Sutherland's family lawyer Peper stated, referencing the existing laws of the state. He also mentioned that the bodycam footage shows the code '10-86', which is the code used by police to designate a mental health patient. 

On the morning of January 5, 2021, Sutherland was scheduled to attend his bond hearing, which is why the deputy officers tried to remove him from his cell. But Sutherland, in a mentally confused state, refused to leave his cell even after verbal warnings by the deputies. 

After 15 minutes of failed efforts in persuading Sutherland, a deputy pepper sprays inside his cell. As Sutherland coughs and covers his head with a blanket, the deputies repeat the same after a few minutes. Soon, they barge inside his cell and tase him. In this video, a desperate and helpless Sutherland can be heard screaming in pain as the deputies continue to tase him. He continues to moan as he lies on the ground while the deputies tell him to 'slide to the door' and get on his stomach.

As the deputies try to handcuff him, he is tased once again as he screams out in pain. According to CNN, a male deputy had a knee on Sutherland's back while the female deputy sat on his lower back. In the end, he is handcuffed but he appears motionless as he is being slid out into the common area. As medics arrive, they try to revive Sutherland with a chest compression machine, but to no avail. 

Sutherland's custodial death was dubbed a 'horrible tragedy' by Charleston County solicitor Scarlett Wilson. She further explained, "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. Their efforts were complicated by the increasing effects that Mr Sutherland was suffering as a result of mental illness."

Before his death, Sutherland's last question was, "What is the meaning of this?" His family has now stated that they would attempt to find the answer to his last question, as heard on the video.