CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The family of Jamal Sutherland, a 31-year-old man who died while in custody at the Al Cannon Detention Center in January, addressed the media on Friday after video of his death was released to the public.
Family attorney Mark Peper provided insight on the night Sutherland was taken into custody following an altercation at a mental health facility in North Charleston.
Peper said Sutherland – with the help of his family – went to Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health on December 31st, 2020, to seek help.
“The goal was to take him to a place where their son could be safe, safe from harm, to get the help he needed,” he said during Friday’s press conference.
But Peper said that did not occur. He said no security and not enough supervision led to an altercation in a unit where Sutherland was being housed.
It happened the evening of January 4th, 2021 – NCPD was told that a “large-scale fight had erupted among patients and staff, and that staff urgently needed help from law enforcement,” according to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey in a video statement.
“An altercation occurred between two patients not named Jamal Sutherland,” he said. “But due to the inability of Palmetto to properly handle – just as they have done many, many times – resulted in them calling 911 for mental health patients that challenged one another while facing their own challenges.”
While the North Charleston Police Department responded to the facility, Peper says Sutherland became agitated. “Jamal did exactly what he had been taught to do – the right thing – he intervened. He tried to help. And given the confusion is alleged to have committed a misdemeanor offense of simple assault on a nurse staff member,” Peper explained.
Peper said Sutherland was ‘doing the right thing’ when law enforcement arrived – sitting down and complying with demands.
While the City of North Charleston released an edited video, which includes dispatch calls and body camera footage, Peper said the unedited footage – expected to be released by NCPD on Friday – shows Sutherland stand up, put his hands behind his back, and calmly walk out of the building and into police custody.
He later died at the Al Cannon Detention Center hours later after detention staff attempted to bring Sutherland before a bond court judge on January 5th.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office released hours of combined video late Thursday night which shows Sutherland being tased repeatedly, and EMS attempting to resuscitate him.
Sutherland’s mother, Amy, also addressed the media saying “mental illness does not give anybody the right to put their hands on my child. That’s my child. I love my child.”
She said her son was good, he was loved, “I had 16 surgeries, Jamal never left my side. Even when he was going to the mental hospital, he wanted to make sure that his mom was alright.”
Amy Sutherland said her son was an example of what she wanted him to be. “When he was tased and pepper-sprayed, he’s hollering ‘hallelujah’ – if you don’t hear what the tape was saying, my son, is saying hallelujah.”
“Now that I know how my baby died, I am proud of him. Mentally ill, still able to say, ‘thank you, Jesus take care of me,’ I want y’all to know Jamal was a great man. He had faults like everybody else, but he was a great man,” she said.
Peper said Sutherland’s last question was “what is the meaning of this?” He said they plan to answer his question. “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.”