Solicitor Wilson releases statement after amended death certificate classifies Jamal Sutherland’s manner of death as homicide

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson released a statement Tuesday after it was revealed the Charleston County Coroner’s Office amended Jamal Sutherland’s death certificate classifying the manner of death as a homicide.

Family attorney Mark Peper said Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal made the change after receiving some tests results. But he said the cause remains ‘excited state with pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.’

FULL COVERAGE: JAMAL SUTHERLAND DEATH INVESTIGATION

“The Sutherland family has been informed by our elected Coroner, Bobbi Jo O’Neal, that following additional testing, she has determined that Jamal’s manner of death is best deemed to be Homicide,” the family said in a provided statement Tuesday. “As a result, an Amended Death Certificate dated June 8, 2021 has been issued. The family reached this same conclusion immediately upon seeing the video of his death, thus they are pleased with the amended finding and remain steadfast in their pursuit of justice for Jamal.”

Solicitor Wilson said the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s death certification is not evidence and is typically not part of the solicitor’s case.

“In the case of Jamal Sutherland, as of early this morning, I had neither the original death certification nor the amended,” she said.  “This is not unusual.”

She went on to say, “When I first saw the video footage of Jamal Sutherland’s death, I fully expected Dr. J.C. Upshaw Downs, the Coroner’s pathologist, to rule it a “homicide.” While I was surprised that Dr. Downs did not deem the manner of death a “homicide,” neither his ruling as to the manner of death, nor the Coroner’s, is of great value in a criminal investigation or prosecution. The word “homicide” is not equal to or synonymous with any crime in South Carolina. Many prosecutions move forward when a manner of death is “undetermined,” and sometimes cases deemed a “homicide” are not a crime. In fact, the National Association of Medical Examiners notes that the term “homicide” with regard to a death certificate is a “neutral” term that does not indicate or imply criminal intent, a determination within the authority of legal processes. (For reference, see the National Association of Medical Examiners, A Guide for Manner of Death Classification (1st ed. 2002). I have discussed this in detail with the Sutherlands.”

You can read the rest of her full statement below:

“Of greater import in my investigation and consideration of prosecution is Dr. Downs’ finding that the cause of death was the result of Sutherland’s “excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.” He further stated that his review of the extrication process did not reveal any “unusual or excessive interactions or areas of direct concern.”

“As I previously stated, I have sought a second opinion as to the autopsy results. Dr. Kim Collins, a renowned and board certified forensic pathologist, is performing the review. While her work is incomplete, I expect a finding of homicide. She is still investigating any “pharmacotherapeutic effect” and its role in Sutherland’s death. It is our understanding that the coroner has requested additional forensic testing which may bear on this issue for both Dr. Downs and Dr. Collins. Determining the cause, rather than medical manner, of death is critical in prosecuting someone for the death of another.”

“In order for the State to hold someone criminally responsible for another’s death, the State must not only prove the proximate cause of death but also that the accused had the requisite criminal intent while acting unlawfully.

In order to determine this, it is imperative that a well-qualified expert analyze the relevant video, policies, procedures and training of those involved. I have sought the opinion of a use of force expert who specializes in force within detention centers. I expect a thorough analysis and expert opinion regarding the use of force against Jamal Sutherland in the near future.”

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