CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Solicitor Scarlett Wilson will not file charges against the detention deputies involved in the in-custody death of Jamal Sutherland.
“Based on the facts and the law, I know that the evidence would not support convictions of
Lindsey Fickett or Brian Houle,” said Solicitor Wilson in her report.
Wilson says the video of Sutherland’s death inside the Al Cannon Detention Center alone isn’t enough to bring charges against the involved deputies of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and that a thorough investigation led to the decision.
Wilson has asked the Justice Department to investigate the case and whether Sutherland’s civil rights were violated.
The solicitor said change needs to happen within the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and South Carolina law enforcement.
Gary Raney, an expert with Criminal Justice Consulting, said nothing the two deputies did violates agency policies or training practices yet the video he saw was shocking.
“Sending two people in for a jail extraction is unheard of,” he said. “Officers failed to wait for 5 to 10 minutes after initial pepper spray before a second round was deployed.”
He said there should have been more time between the deployment of the taser and the pepper spray. “A taser was deployed against Jamal Sutherland 10 times during the extraction process.”
Raney said Al Cannon Detention Center adopted new cell extraction policies in 2008 rooted in aggression and intimidation. “It’s a failure of policy and training put in place for the detention center,” he said.
Solicitor Wilson explained Detention Deputy Brian Houle told supervisors twice it was a bad idea, that he didn’t want to extract Sutherland from the cell, but the detention center’s administration ordered the deputies to extract Sutherland regardless.
Sutherland, who was seeking help at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge following an incident at the mental health facility in North Charleston and booked into the Al Cannon Detention Center back in January.
He died a few hours later after detention officers repeatedly pepper-sprayed and tased him as they attempted to extricate the man from his cell for a required bond hearing.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office later released hours of combined footage of the incident at the detention center. In one of the videos, a detention center employee details the situation after Sutherland does not comply with officer requests.
“Inmate is refusing to open the door, refusing to cuff up, taken an aggressive stance. He’s already said we have to use force on him. CDO Captain [Unclear] has been notified. Judge is stating that he needs to be in front of the judge. [Unclear] has cooperation with control for the extraction. Medical team is standing by.”
Another video shows detention officers moving into the cell, Sutherland is then tased several times, handcuffed, and then tased again. Finally, he is seen being dragged out of his cell wearing what is called a “spit mask,” which appears to make it harder for him to breathe.
After that sequence of events, officers spend about 10 to 15 minutes trying to revive Sutherland, but their attempts were unsuccessful.
“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,” said Sutherland’s mother, Amy, during a news conference in May.
Sheriff Kristin Graziano called the video of Sutherland’s death horrific. “Our responsibility is the safety of Jamal Sutherland and he died in our facility. So, we need to examine that,” she said.
Detention Deputy Brian Houle and Detention Sergeant Lindsay Fickett were later fired for their role in Sutherland’s death after repeated calls from the community and local activists. Houle and Fickett were originally placed on administrative leave for several weeks and then reassigned to administrative duties immediately following Sutherland’s death.
“I made the decision to terminate the two detention deputies involved in this case. I must weigh the interest of public safety for the community against any incident that creates even the perception of impairment to the operation of the Detention Center for the safety of all residents, staff and our community,” said Sheriff Graziano in a statement on May 17.
Still, activists have been calling for the detention officers to be charged with Sutherland’s death.
Solicitor Wilson said she had been waiting on more information in the case and sifting through documents and evidence connected to Sutherland’s death before she felt comfortable deciding on any possible charges.