CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Jamal Sutherland was receiving treatment at Palmetto Behavioral Health when he was arrested for misdemeanor simple assault and booked into the Al Cannon Detention Center back in early January.
Sutherland, accused of assaulting staff members at the mental health facility, died 14 hours after being taken into custody.
On the morning of January 5th, deputies attempted to escort Sutherland to a virtual bond hearing.
Sutherland, who appeared confused and repeatedly asked questions about where he was being taken, did not comply with detention deputies’ orders.
After several attempts to get Sutherland out of the cell on his own accord, deputies performed what is called a cell extraction.
Charleston County Sheriff Kristen Graziano and 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson confirmed the deputies were ordered to conduct the extraction.
The body camera video of the struggle that followed is difficult to watch. The deputies used pepper spray and a taser at least six times in an effort to gain control but there is gray area when it comes to use of force in moments like this one.
How much was Sutherland resisting? Was he obeying commands? Did the deputies feel threatened? So, the Count on 2 investigators turned their attention to the moments after Sutherland was restrained.
After a two minute struggle, former detention deputy Lindsay Fickett gained control over Sutherland and secured handcuffs on him with the help of former deputy Brian Houle.
Sutherland was prone or facedown with his hands behind his back.
Seth W. Stoughton — a University of South Carolina law professor and policing scholar who testified in the Derek Chauvin trial — said the prone position is commonly used because it allows officers to gain control while limiting the threat the suspect can present, but Stoughton says the steps that follow are crucial.
It is a crucial step because the prone position can lead to what is called positional asphyxia- a possible deadly outcome that is wildly known in the police community.
A 1995 bulletin from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Law Enforcement Technology Center warned about the dangers. It reads, “as soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach.”
The bulletin lists turning the subject on their side or placing them in a seated position as appropriate recovery positions after someone is prone and explains oxygen deficiency reading, “the individual experiences increased difficulty in breathing.”
Stoughton, who could not comment on the Sutherland case, explained that a subject’s inability to take deep breaths over time results in an oxygen deficiency.
He said unlike choking, an asphyxiated subject may be able to speak.
“They are still able to breathe in the sense that they may be able to talk or even yell. You may still hear them breathing and see the lungs inflating and deflating but over time the breaths they are taking in are not enough,” Stoughton said. “What you end up with is asphyxiation,” he continued.
So, how much time should a person who is restrained remain prone before be turned to their side or seated?
“Are we talking minutes?, the investigators asked. “No, no this is a matter of seconds,” he said.SETH W. STOUGHTON, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA SCHOOL OF LAW
“By the time you hit the one-minute mark, the two-minute mark, the three-minute mark. That is critical time, potential life-threatening time that that person should not be in that position,” he said.
On body camera video from January 5th, Fickett and Houle were seen double-locking Sutherland’s handcuffs at 9:37 a.m.
At 9:38 a.m. a spit hood is placed over Sutherland’s head.
At 9:39 a.m. he was dragged out of the cell—still in the prone position.
Nearing 9:40 a.m. Fickett appears to put her weight on Sutherland again. Seconds later you hear Sutherland’s last audible moan.
A minute later, an unresponsive Sutherland is turned to his side and propped on a chair with the help of several members of a medical team.
It would be another nine minutes before resuscitation attempts would begin.
According to the video, Sutherland was held prone for three minutes.
So did Fickett know about the dangers of holding someone prone?
The investigators obtained training materials from the South Carolina Justice Academy which trains all law enforcement officers in the state.
The training documents clearly explain positional asphyxia reading, “this condition can lead to death.”
“Depending on the totality of circumstances, once the suspect is in custody and secure, officers should place the suspect in a proper recovery position as soon as possible. For example, the suspect should be seated, standing, or lying on their side,” reads the training material.
The training material does not list a specific time frame.
The justice academy’s director Jackie Swindler, said law enforcement officers know the importance of the recovery position.
“This has been out for a number of years. The best practice is to get people up. We really emphasize getting that person up to make sure they are breathing properly,” Swindler said.
But like all training in law enforcement. Swindler says decisions in high-stress situations are not always clear-cut.
Neither Stoughton or Swindler could comment on the Sutherland case.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the incident along with the Solicitors Office who will determine if charges are pressed against the former deputies.
The pathologist who completed Sutherland’s autopsy stated that Sutherland’s manner of death was undetermined but noted that he died, “as a result of excited state with pharmacotherapeutic effect during the subdual process.”
According to Solicitor Wilson, the pathologist further stated that his review of the extraction process did not reveal any “unusual or excessive interactions or areas of direct concern.”
Solicitor Wilson has requested a second pathologist’s opinion.