Changes needed after Jamal Sutherland’s in-custody death, Charleston County sheriff says

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A day after releasing video of Jamal Sutherland’s death in a Charleston County jail, sheriff Kristin Graziano said changes have been made, and more are to come.

Sutherland was arrested Jan. 4 by North Charleston police over an alleged fight at the Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center, where he was admitted in December. He died the next day at the Al Cannon Detention Center.

He was due in bond court, but refused to leave his cell, a corrections officer is heard saying in body camera video. Officers forcefully removed Sutherland from the cell, shocking him multiple times with stun guns.

His cause of death remains under investigation.

According to Graziano, it was policy at the detention center to force inmates to attend bond hearings.

“Since that time, since that day, I have changed policy and no longer allow forced bond hearings,” Graziano announced at a press conference Friday.

Graziano had just begun her first term as sheriff hours after Sutherland was arrested, she pointed out during the news conference.

“I knew coming into this position that changes needed to be made,” Graziano said. “That is what we’ve been doing for the last four months and that is why I ran for sheriff.”

She spoke about broader changes that need to be made, particularly in the way law enforcement deals with mental illness.

Specifically, Graziano said she is working on “restricting non-lethal force” in interactions between officers and individuals in mental health crises.

“We’re developing policies and procedures for mental health but we need help ... we don’t have all the answers,” she said. “We’ll be leaning heavily on our legislators, our county councilors, and our community partners to make these changes possible.”

The officers involved in the Jan. 5 incident still have their jobs, Graziano told reporters; they were initially suspended, then brought back in an administrative capacity.

“They essentially have desk jobs, pending the outcome of this investigation,” she said.

The recently released video shocked and angered local leaders.

North Charleston City Councilman Jerome Heyward, who was supportive of Graziano during her race for sheriff, now doubts she is right for the job.

“I’m not pleased with what I saw and I’m going to go a step further,” Heyward said, adding that he plans to ask Graziano for her resignation. “I don’t have no faith in the sheriff.”

Sutherland’s death has also caught the attention of the White House.

“Far too often, communities of color are living in fear and are exhausted by the threat, and the possibility of, of being in harm’s way and they should not feel that way,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Caitlin Byrd contributed to this report.

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