CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Documents recently released by Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson pertaining to the Jamal Sutherland in-custody death investigation reveal that deputies extracted Sutherland from his cell based on a ‘longstanding directive’ that forced inmates to attend bond hearings, contrary to policy.
FULL COVERAGE: JAMAL SUTHERLAND DEATH INVESTIGATION
Sutherland, a mentally ill man being held at the Al Cannon Detention Center, died January 5 after deputies forcibly removed him from his cell so that he could appear virtually in bond court.
Documents reveal a discrepancy between an internal policy implemented at the Al Cannon Detention Center which required inmates to either attend a bond hearing or appear before a judge to decline the hearing, and the written policy — Video Bond Hearing Policy 9-14.4 — which “allows inmates to refuse to appear without force being used,” according to Wilson.
READ: Scarlett Wilson’s report on Jamal Sutherland’s death at the Charleston County Detention Center
The internal directive, which was implemented in April of 2017, “stated that from that moment forward, when an inmate refused to go to his bond hearing, ‘the first time,’ deputies were instructed to notify supervisors and contact the [Special Operations Group ] SOG for use of an Emergency Restraint Chair.”
Deputies involved in the Sutherland case report trying to circumvent that policy, believing that use of force could exacerbate an already tense situation.
Deputy Brian Houle, who was under investigation for Sutherland’s death, said he voiced his concern up the chain of command, hoping the extraction could be delayed due to Sutherland’s excited mental state.
Houle spoke to Lt. Bryan Duvall about several potentially dangerous factors, including Houle being the only SOG team member working that day and Sutherland being combative, as well as Sutherland’s size and the possible use of his breakfast tray and spoon as weapons.
Houle recalled instances of “a detainee being rescheduled for [a] bond court appearance when it appeared they were going to be violent,” and sought a similar exception.
Duvall made several calls to determine whether Sutherland’s appearance could be postponed:
He first contacted the Bond Court Deputy, who “said they were operating under Captain Salters’ directive to bring the subject before the judge to refuse [the] Bond Hearing in front of the judge.”
Duvall tried to reach Salters, but could not get through, so he contacted the Command Duty Officer (highest ranking on-duty staff member), Captain Kerry Greathouse.
“And When I called Captain Greathouse, I told her what the scenario was and she suggested ‘you should bring him down in [Emergency Restraint Chair].’ I knew there was no other option but to do a cell extraction.”Lt. Bryan Duvall
Use of force expert Gary Raney, who was called upon by Wilson to conduct an analysis of the events related to Sutherland’s death, said that “Houle and Duvall both properly questioned their orders, recognizing that the impending force on Sutherland was likely pointless and dangerous.”
READ: Use of Force analysis from the Criminal Justice Consulting
Wilson said that “had the Video Bond Hearing Policy 9-14.4 been followed, the tragic death of Jamal Sutherland may never have occurred.” She explained that “by allowing refusals before skipping to the extreme of a cell extraction, the detention center and the court had options such as mental evaluations and attempts of de-escalation.”
Under the Video Bond Hearing Policy 9-14.4, inmates have the right to refuse bond court.
“The Court may request the inmate to make the refusal via video; the Court will reschedule the inmate’s court appearance. The Bond Hearing Detention Deputy will follow-up with the inmate regarding the participation in Bond Hearing at each Bond Court Session. If the inmate refuses again, the Judge shall be notified of the refusal. If the Judge orders that the inmate be brought in front of him/her, the inmate shall be escorted to Bond Court by the Special Operations Group.”Video Bond Hearing Policy 9.14.4
Ultimately, several issues were brought up regarding the adherence to the directive over policy.
Judge Mel Coleman was presiding over bond hearings on January 5 and said that he was not notified of Sutherland’s refusal to appear, nor did he give the order for Sutherland to be brought. He said that “he had never ordered an inmate be brought to Bond Court.”
Fellow Bond Court Judge Amanda Haselden added that inmates have “the legal right to refuse” to appear in bond court.
Raney determined that “it was an utter failure of [Charleston County Sheriff’s Office] leadership to allow this practice to exist, especially when it was contradictory to the court’s intentions.”
Wilson concluded “had superiors honored [the] request for a postponement, a cell extraction likely would not have happened and Houle and Fickett likely would have never interacted with Sutherland.” She said that his death was “entirely avoidable.”
Shortly after Sutherland’s death, Sheriff Kristin Graziano rescinded the directive.