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Attorney who represented George Floyd’s family now wants justice for SC’s Jamal Sutherland

·3 min read

The family of Jamal Sutherland, the Black man who struggled with mental illness and died inside the Charleston County jail after deputies used tasers, pepper spray and physical force to remove him from his cell, has retained prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump to represent them as they renew their calls for legal action over their son’s death.

Ben Crump, who represented the family of George Floyd, on Tuesday called for charges to be filed against officers involved in Sutherland’s death.

“We all know what the truth is that they unjustly killed this man who was having a mental health crisis,” a passionate Crump said, speaking at a news conference outside of 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson’s downtown Charleston office. “We want whole justice. We don’t want partial justice. ... His life should be given the same dignity and respect as any other child, Black or white, here in the state of South Carolina.”

Crump was joined by representatives from the National Action Network, who said Tuesday they have sent letters to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and to Acting U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart seeking further investigation into and, ultimately, charges related to Sutherland’s death. They’ve called on the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and investigate.

More than a month after reaching out to Wilson and DeHart, the Rev. Nelson Rivers said the National Action Network had not received a response from either one of them.

“But we will not stop asking and demanding,” Nelson said.

Sutherland died on the morning of Jan. 5, after he was forcibly removed from his cell at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center for a scheduled bond hearing.

Sutherland, 31, had been transferred to the jail the night before from a mental health facility where he was seeking help. He was facing a misdemeanor charge connected to a fight at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health.

For months, details surrounding Sutherland’s death were unknown. But in May, nearly four months after Sutherland died, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano released hours of graphic footage that showed what happened.

The public dissemination of those videos led to swift protests in Charleston, where community leaders, activists and citizens called for changes to how people with mental illness are treated while in custody.

The city of North Charleston also released footage, which showed the moments leading up to Sutherland’s arrest.

In one of the clips, as Sutherland waited with a North Charleston police officer outside the psychiatric hospital, Sutherland said, “I come here to get help. I ain’t come here to get locked up.”

This renewed push for legal action on Tuesday comes nearly three months after 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced her office would not pursue criminal charges against the two deputies involved in Sutherland’s death, detention deputy Brian Houle and detention Sgt. Lindsay Fickett.

In announcing her decision this summer, the prosecutor said she reviewed hours of graphic body-camera footage and also sought second opinions on Sutherland’s cause of death and the use of force by deputies in a corrections setting.

“I can prove what they did,” Wilson said at a July 26 press conference. “I cannot prove their criminal intent.”

In May, on the one-year anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd, Charleston County Council approved a $10 million settlement with the Sutherland family.

Crump, who has been called “Black America’s attorney general,” has become a frequent voice for Black families whose loved ones were killed by police violence. In 2013, he first rose to national prominence when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, a teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.

Soon after, he then took on the case for the family of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

He has gone on to win financial settlements in about 200 police brutality cases. In March, the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $27 million to settle a civil lawsuit from George Floyd’s family.

This is a developing story that will be updated with more details.

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