Jamal Sutherland’s death in Charleston County jail was homicide, family attorneys say

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The death certificate for Jamal Sutherland, a Black man with a history of mental illness who died inside a Charleston County jail, now says what his family said they knew all along: It was homicide.

His first death certificate said Sutherland’s death was “undetermined.”

The change was confirmed Tuesday afternoon by the law offices of Mark Peper and Gary Christmas, Charleston attorneys who are representing the Sutherland family.

“The Sutherland family has been informed by our elected Coroner, Bobbi Jo O’Neal, that following additional testing, she has determined that Jamal’s manner of death is best deemed to be homicide,” a statement from the attorneys said.

“As a result, an Amended Death Certificate dated June 8, 2021 has been issued. The family reached this same conclusion immediately upon seeing the video of his death, thus they are pleased with the amended finding and remain steadfast in their pursuit of justice for Jamal.”

A request for comment from the Charleston County Coroner’s Office was not immediately returned.

The change in Sutherland’s cause of death comes months after Sutherland died on Jan. 5 shortly after deputies tried to forcibly remove the 31-year-old from his cell for a bond hearing.

Sutherland was booked into the jail on Jan. 4 after an alleged fight at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center, a mental health facility where Sutherland was receiving care for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He was arrested by North Charleston Police.

During Sutherland’s encounter with the two jail officers on Jan. 5, footage shows he was sprayed twice with a chemical irritant and shocked repeatedly with a stun gun. Sutherland wailed in pain as he lay face down on the floor, at one point screaming for 34 seconds straight.

As Sutherland lay on the floor with deputies on top of him, their knees pressed into his back, Sutherland at one point can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.”

One of the deputies involved in the incident told a medic that Sutherland had been shocked with a Taser “probably six to eight times, at least.”

For months, authorities said little about what happened.

Pathologist Dr. J.C. Upshaw Downs originally determined that Sutherland’s cause of death was “undetermined,” and said the Goose Creek man died “as a result of excited state with pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process.”

The same pathologist also said his review of the extrication process did not reveal any “unusual or excessive interactions or areas of direct concern.”

The coroner released a statement on May 13, saying Sutherland’s manner of death remained “undetermined.”

“An investigation into the death of Mr. Sutherland remains open and is still active,” O’Neal said at the time.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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