2 cops fired over death of a black man as they knelt on his back
18th May 2021

‘I can’t breathe’: Two South Carolina cops are fired after bodycam shows them kneeling on the back of handcuffed black prisoner who died after they tasered and pepper sprayed him

  • Jamal Sutherland, 31, died on January 5 in the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston  
  • Sutherland was moved to the jail from a mental health facility one day earlier
  • Bodycam footage released last week shows the deputies pepper spraying, tasering and pinning him to the ground while he cried out in pain
  • He shouted ‘I can’t breathe’ as one deputy pinned his knee into his back for around two minutes while another deputy leans on his lower back 
  • Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano announced Monday Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle had been fired from the department 
  • Fickett had been employed there since March 2011 and Houle since July 2016
  • Prosecutors will decide by the end of June whether to bring charges  
  • His death has drawn parallels with the murder of George Floyd and sparked calls for reforms in the way people with mental illness are treated in police custody

Two South Carolina cops have been fired over the death of a mentally ill black man who said ‘I can’t breathe’ as they knelt on his back and tasered him in his prison cell. 

Jamal Sutherland, 31, died on January 5 in the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston while Charleston County Sheriff’s deputies were forcing him from his cell for a bail hearing. 

Just 24 hours earlier, Sutherland had been relocated to the jail from a mental health facility. 

Shocking bodycam footage released last week shows the deputies pepper spraying, tasering and pinning him to the ground while he cried out in pain.

His death – which has drawn parallels with the murder of George Floyd – has sparked protests in South Carolina and calls for reforms in the way people with mental illness are treated in police custody. 

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Jamal Sutherland, 31, (pictured) died on January 5 in the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston


Sgt. Lindsay Fickett (left) and Detention Deputy Brian Houle (right) have been fired from Charleston County Sheriff’s department over his death 

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano announced Monday Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Detention Deputy Brian Houle had been fired from the department over the incident. 

Fickett had been employed there since March 2011 and Houle since July 2016. 

‘Today, I made the decision to terminate the two detention deputies involved in this case,’ Graziano said in a statement on Twitter.

‘I must weigh the interest of public safety for the community against any incident that creates even the perception of an impairment to the operation of the Detention Center for the safety of all residents, staff and our Community.’ 

Both deputies had been suspended for 30 days and placed on desk duty following Sutherland’s death.

Local prosecutors are deciding whether to bring any crininal charges against the deputies.  

Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she expected to announce a decision before the end of June.  

Officials finished their investigation on the in-custody death and turned it over the solicitor’s office.

The sheriff’s department is also carrying out an internal investigation. 

Sutherland had been staying at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health mental health facility since New Year’s Eve before being moved to the jail on January 4.

His family’s lawyer Mark Peper said he was moved because of an incident at the health center where he was accused of ‘a misdemeanor offense of simple assault on a nurse staff member.’  

Workers said a fight had broken out and Sutherland assaulted a staff member, according to the Post and Courier.

Shocking bodycam footage released last week shows the deputies pepper spraying, tasering and pinning him to the ground while he cried out in pain. It begins with deputies saying he is  refusing to leave his cell for his bail hearing

Deputies deploy pepper spray into the cell as Sutherland hides his face with a blanket

The 31-year-old and another patient were arrested on charges of third-degree assault and battery.  

Sutherland was not booked into the jail’s medical facility because it was already at capacity, Graziano told CNN.

Instead he was taken to an area ‘where he could be housed safely and not in an open bay area where he would be exposed to other residents,’ she said.  

The fatal incident took place the following day – January 5 – when Sutherland allegedly resisted leaving his cell for his bail hearing around 9:30 am in the morning.

Graphic bodycam footage was released last week by the sheriff’s office at the request of Sutherland’s family.  

The footage begins with a deputy saying Sutherland is refusing to leave his cell and has a spoon in his hand.

He says the judge has said Sutherland needs to appear for his hearing. 

Sutherland is heard chanting something inaudible in the background and several deputies are seen around the outside of his cell.

Sutherland is then ordered to ‘slide to the door’ and get on his stomach. He is seen complying with this request, sitting on the ground of the cell and inching toward the officers

The deputies enter the cell and put him in handcuffs. ‘Do not resist,’ one deputy says. ‘I’m not resisting, officer,’ he replies. A deputy deploys their taser on Sutherland

A deputy is heard telling him to put his hands through the cell door so he can be cuffed and taken to court. 

Sutherland is heard shouting ‘I’m warning you, I’m warning you’ and ‘what do you want.’ 

Around 15 minutes later, a deputy deploys pepper spray into Sutherland’s cell before shutting the door again.  

Sutherland is heard coughing and is seen wrapping a blanket around his head to protect from the spray.

Officers deploy pepper spray again into the cell and later deploy their taser.

Sutherland is then ordered to ‘slide to the door’ and get on his stomach. 

He is seen complying with this request, sitting on the ground of the cell and inching toward the officers while he asks: ‘What is the meaning of this?’  

The deputies enter the cell and put him in handcuffs.

‘Do not resist,’ one deputy says.

‘I’m not resisting, officer,’ he replies.

A deputy deploys their taser on Sutherland.  

Sutherland is seen face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back as he is heard screaming in pain and the taser is heard repeatedly.  

A male deputy – identified as Houle – is seen putting his knee on Sutherland’s back pinning him to the ground for more than two minutes as the black man tells him: ‘I can’t breathe.’

A female deputy – Fickett – is seen sitting on his lower back.

It is not clear how many times Sutherland was tasered by the officers but Houle later says in the footage he believes it was ‘probably about six to eight times, at least.’ 

Sutherland is seen face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back as he is heard screaming in pain and the taser is heard repeatedly

A male deputy – identified as Houle – is seen putting his knee on Sutherland’s back pinning him to the ground for more than two minutes as the black man tells him: ‘I can’t breathe.’ A female deputy – Fickett – is seen sitting on his lower back

A motionless Sutherland is pulled out of his cell into the common area where taser barbs are moved from his body and he is lifted into a wheelchair. 

Around three minutes has passed since they first entered his cell.

A medic is asked to ‘check him’ and checks his pulse. The medic says he is breathing and he is lifted again down onto the floor. 

His pulse is checked again while several people are seen standing around looking down on the black man lying limp on the floor. 

At one point, Sutherland is asked if ‘you think you can sit up.’

When he fails to respond they check his vital signs and pulse and say he has a pulse.  

Paramedics later arrive on the scene and are seen performing CPR on him and hooking him up to a chest compression machine.  

Footage from the day before shows Sutherland arriving at the jail and shouting about the Illuminati conspiracy

Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston where Sutherland died in January 

After about 35 minutes, Sutherland is pronounced dead. 

Footage from the day before shows Sutherland arriving at the jail and shouting about the Illuminati conspiracy.

Sutherland’s family called for the deputies’ firings last week.

His mom Amy Sutherland said the family weren’t even told about his death for four hours and had never been informed he had been transferred to jail.

‘We got no information from anybody,’ she said.

Graziano, who took over the department the day Sutherland died, has vowed to reform the way mentally unwell individuals are handled by law enforcement. 

The incident drew comparisons to last year’s death of George Floyd, who died after white cop Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes as he begged for air and said ‘I can’t breathe.’

Chauvin was convicted in April of Floyd’s murder and is due to be sentenced in June.  

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