Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano responds to surveillance criticism, activists moving forward

Jamal Sutherland Death Investigation

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano is responding to criticism over social media surveillance in early May just days before video of an inmate death was set to be released. Activists say the practice is unfair, Sheriff Graziano says it’s necessary to keep the community safe.

Sheriff Graziano says social media surveillance is a long-standing practice used by law enforcement to protect the community and stay on top of local events. Activists say their issues are with SEAHAWK, the outside agency conducting the surveillance.

Through SEAHAWK, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office monitored social media of news outlets, new personalities, community activists and some elected officials including State Representative Wendell Gilliard. The monitoring was confirmed through a series of emails released by the county.

The surveillance drew concerns from several who were being monitored saying they were singled out by the operation. Sheriff Graziano says it’s something law enforcement does frequently.

“The manner of which this incident was presented to local activists in our community was irresponsible,” says Sheriff Graziano.

Monitoring social media days before video of Jamal Sutherland’s death was set to be released, Sheriff Graziano says it’s a standard practice to keep the community safe.

“We do this so we can keep tabs on what’s happening in our community so we can adequately respond and keep our community safe,” says Sheriff Graziano. “That is our job.”

Sheriff Graziano says the surveillance was nothing more than a precaution by law enforcement.

“There was no threat, nor did we mention anything about a threat,” says Sheriff Graziano. “There was no investigation, nor did our agency mention anything about an investigation.”

The sheriff’s office and community activists are looking to move forward and work together to make improvements across the system.

“That’s my commitment, that’s her commitment,” says State Representative Wendell Gilliard. “I took her or her word and nothing has changed.”

Community activists, elected officials and the sheriff’s office plan to discuss changes to racial bias, use of force culture, mental health and more.

“Is to make sure that working with her that we don’t have these types of Sutherland situations ever again,” says Representative Gilliard.

Along with the changes, Representative Gilliard says he plans to meet with SEAHAWK in the coming weeks.

“We will continue to work on prison reform, the way inmates are treated,” says Representative Gilliard.

“Continue to work towards the greater good for our community because they deserve it,” says Sheriff Graziano.

Representative Gilliard, community activists, Sheriff Graziano and more plan to meet next Wednesday to discuss plans for a racial bias audit of the sheriff’s office along with other potential policy changes.

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