Two former South Carolina jail deputies will not face federal criminal civil rights charges in connection with the in-custody death of a Black man who was pepper-sprayed and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
The federal case involving Jamal Sutherland's death Jan. 5, 2021, at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston is now closed.
"Experienced federal prosecutors at the Justice Department reviewed evidence obtained by the FBI and state investigators to determine whether the force used against Sutherland violated any federal laws," the agency said in a news release.
"After this review, prosecutors determined that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that deputies willfully violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes."
Sutherland, who was schizophrenic, was being held at the jail after got into a fight at the psychiatric facility where he was being treated. Two deputies, Brian Houle and Sgt. Lindsey Fickett, tried to remove him from his cell for a bond hearing.
Authorities said that when Sutherland resisted, the deputies pepper-sprayed him and then used their stun guns a combined 10 times before they put a "spit mask" over his head. Video showed him crying out in pain and writhing on the floor.
Sutherland, 31, was pronounced dead a few hours later, NBC affiliate WCBD of Charleston reported. His manner of death was determined to be a homicide. In May 2021, the Charleston County Council settled with his family for $10 million.
The Justice Department said its decision was made after federal prosecutors analyzed evidence, including photos and videos of the incident, witness statements, law enforcement accounts and training materials.
The prosecutors also reviewed a state report from last year, in which authorities declined to file criminal charges. At the time, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said that the deputies made "grave mistakes" that played a role in Sutherland's death but that "that doesn’t mean it’s a crime."
A use-of-force expert who reviewed the case for Wilson said he did not find that the deputies violated jail policies but said that the policies are "indefensible."
Houle and Fickett were fired. Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said the video was "horrific."
An attorney for Sutherland's family could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.