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Coroner releases new details in the Charleston County jail death of Jamal Sutherland

·3 min read

The way jail deputies removed Jamal Sutherland from a Charleston County jail cell was a contributing factor in his death at the Al Cannon Detention Center, according to an ongoing death investigation by the Charleston County Corner’s Office.

At a Wednesday news conference, Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said a team of forensic pathologists cited the jail’s subdual process among the three significant factors they say played a role in Sutherland’s death.

Sutherland, 31, died from a “cardiac event,” O’Neal said. More specifically, she said it appears Sutherland died of an abnormal heart rhythm, also known as a cardiac dysrhythmia.

Sutherland was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, after two Charleston County sheriff’s deputies forcibly removed him from his cell for a scheduled bond hearing

Graphic footage released last month by Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano shows Sutherland was sprayed twice with pepper spray and shocked repeatedly with Tasers as two deputies tried to get him out of his cell. At one point during his interaction with deputies, Sutherland wailed in pain for 34 seconds straight.

“We know that there’s probably a traumatic stress response that happens during that process,” O’Neal said of the extradition process. “Although that’s not measurable, and that’s not something we can measure or test for, we can’t exclude that as being a factor in the death of Mr. Sutherland.”

The two other factors that contributed to Sutherland’s death, O’Neal said, were changes in Sutherland’s baseline medication and an “excited state,” which was listed as Sutherland’s initial cause of death.

Before Sutherland arrived at the Charleston County jail, he had been a patient at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health Center, a mental health facility where Sutherland was receiving care for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

He was arrested on Jan. 4 by North Charleston Police after an alleged fight broke out between patients and staff at the facility.

Though O’Neal did not say which medications may have negatively interacted, she said the baseline change in Sutherland’s medication was central to understanding what might have made his heart beat abnormally. The medication change happened when he went to Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, she said.

“Many of those medications have a known or conditional risk of causing a cardiac dysrhythmia. That was very significant” O”Neal said.

The findings came from additional toxicology testing and a review of medical records from Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health. Genetic testing was also sent to the Mayo Clinic to determine whether Sutherland had any predisposition for a cardiac arrhythmia.

At this point, O’Neal said, tests show Sutherland did not have a predisposition.

O’Neal also briefly addressed what the investigation shows regarding the repeated use of a Taser on Sutherland. Jail footage shows Sutherland was shocked at least six times by a Taser, but medical examiners found one puncture mark on his body.

“There were no fatal injuries that were identified,” O’Neal said.

The new details shared Wednesday come after Sutherland’s death certificate was changed to rule his manner of death a homicide. It was previously listed as “undetermined.”

“Jamal mattered, and we need to be complete and thorough, and answer all the questions that we can,” O’Neal said at the conclusion of her press conference.

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.”

Other agencies taking a closer look at Sutherland’s death include the State Law Enforcement Division and 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson. As part of her investigation, Wilson is seeking a second opinion about how Sutherland died inside the Charleston County jail.

Dr. Kim Collins, a board certified forensic pathologist in Charleston, will be performing the review.

Wilson has promised she will make a decision about whether to press criminal charges against the two deputies involved in Sutherland’s death by the end of June.

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