By Michelle Liu
The Associated Press/Report for America
The family of a mentally ill Black man who died after South Carolina jail employees repeatedly stunned him and then kneeled on his back until he stopped breathing is still seeking criminal charges a year later.
Relatives for Jamal Sutherland have repeatedly asked South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to consider prosecuting the Charleston County guards who restrained Sutherland shortly before his death, but his office hasn’t take action, said attorney Carl Solomon at a news conference Jan. 13.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson had announced last July that the jail deputies wouldn’t face charges due to their poor training. Scarlett Wilson called the deputies’ actions “damning,” but said she couldn’t prove the guards intended to kill Sutherland, who at the time was refusing to go to his bond hearing on a misdemeanor charge.
Scarlett Wilson said at the time that she had already invited the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the case and would not interfere with any review by federal authorities or the state Attorney General’s Office.
Solomon and prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump were joined Jan. 13 in Charleston by relatives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Daunte Wright, all Black men killed by White people and whose families Crump has represented.
Crump has drawn parallels between Sutherland’s death and those of Floyd’s and Arbery’s, which were also caught on camera.
“This family here — it’s another sad day in this world, because we still have to deal with these tragedies,” said Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father. “It’s just like it ain’t never going to stop, but we the people, we’ve got to keep fighting.”
Robert Kittle, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said the agency was aware of only one request to review the case from September. In a response to that request, Alan Wilson wrote that his office had acknowledged the local prosecutor’s report and was also in contact with federal prosecutors in South Carolina who had intended to review the report and its findings.
“The office of the Attorney General is reluctant to review a case that will be reviewed by two sovereign prosecution agencies who are both well qualified and professional in conducting investigations of this nature,” Alan Wilson wrote. “We … defer to their findings in this matter.”
Scarlett Wilson said in a Jan. 13 statement that she is standing firm in her decision and has encouraged the family to seek a review of the case from other prosecutors.
“I appreciate the Sutherlands’ perseverance and respect their resolve,” Wilson said. “After today’s event, I am more convinced that a meeting would not be in anyone’s best interest.”
Sutherland, 31, had been booked into the jail the day before his death. Officers had arrested him while investigating a fight at the mental health and substance abuse center where he was receiving treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His death drew national attention after county officials released video of the incident months later.
Two deputies involved were fired four months after Sutherland’s death by Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano, who took office the day before the incident. Charleston County also agreed to pay a $10 million settlement to Sutherland’s family.
The renewed calls for prosecution of the jail deputies came the day before what would have been Sutherland’s 33rd birthday.
“If Jamal was White, he would’ve been walked out of that cell and into a doctor’s office,” said Amy Sutherland. “Jamal was Black, so they sat on his back and they Tased him to death.”
Two Charleston-area House representatives have also introduced a bill named after Sutherland that would require mental evaluations before bond hearings, among other reforms.
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