Jail deputies who pepper-sprayed and repeatedly used a stun gun on a mentally ill inmate in South Carolina earlier this year will not face charges in the man’s in-custody death, authorities said Monday.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told reporters she could prove the two deputies made “grave mistakes” that played a role in the Jan. 5 death of Jamal Sutherland, 31, at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.
“That doesn’t mean it’s a crime,” she said, adding that “the issue isn’t our ability to prove how many times a Taser was used.”
A use-of-force expert who reviewed the case for Wilson, Gary Raney, said at a news conference Monday that although he didn’t find that the officers violated jail policies, he said he found those policies “indefensible.”
For more than a decade, he said, the policies were geared toward “intimidation and aggression," not “communication and de-escalation.”
“You could shoot bullets into the air 99 times and nothing would ever happen,” Raney said. “But the 100th time could kill someone.”
“This was the 100th time, where sadly somebody died and didn’t need to,” he said.
After the announcement, Sutherland’s mother told reporters “justice was denied” in her son’s death, but she said she believed Wilson had done a fair job.
“I can’t be mad with her — she didn’t write these laws,” Amy Sutherland said. “Being mentally ill is a crime in this state.”
Jamal Sutherland, who was schizophrenic, died after two deputies, Brian Houle and Sgt. Lindsey Fickett, tried removing him from his jail cell for a bond hearing. He was arrested the day before after a fight at the psychiatric facility where he was being treated.
When authorities said Sutherland resisted, officers pepper-sprayed him, then used their stun guns a combined 10 times before putting a “spit mask” over his head, according to officials. Sutherland was pronounced dead a few hours later, NBC affiliate WCBD of Mount Pleasant reported.
Coroner Bobbi Jo O'Neal later determined his manner of death to be a homicide, and the Charleston County Council awarded his family a $10 million settlement.
Houle and Fickett were fired, and Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano called video of Sutherland’s death “horrific.”
On Saturday, Graziano announced a series of policy changes at the jail, including measures that allow inmates to attend bond hearings remotely and direct jail officers to “de-escalate and disengage” if an inmate becomes combative.
“These steps mark only a beginning,” she said. “We still have much work to do at the detention center.”
Fickett and Houle could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday on publicly listed phone numbers and email addresses.