The death of a Black man after police used pepper spray and Tasers on him in a South Carolina jail has stirred outrage as well as widespread calls for changes to the treatment of people in custody suffering from mental illness.
Video footage released late on Thursday shows sheriff’s deputies in Charleston County extracting the man, Jamal Sutherland, from his jail cell on Jan. 5, first using pepper spray on him, and then Tasers while he screams out in pain. He was declared dead soon after, and the graphic video spurred denunciations on Friday of the officers’ response.
Elements of the videos — including a moment when Mr. Sutherland, who has an officer’s knee on his back, says “I can’t breathe” — echo other recent instances of violent encounters between law enforcement and African-Americans that have sparked sustained racial justice and police reform movements that continue to resonate throughout the United States.
“Jamal Sutherland was handled like an animal by correctional officers who had no regard for his altered mental state,” a coalition of South Carolina activist groups said in a statement on Friday. The statement said the video of his killing revealed the inhumane conditions of the detention center where he was being held, “which undoubtedly aggravated Jamal’s state of mental distress.”
The two Charleston County Sheriff’s deputies who engaged with Mr. Sutherland, Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Deputy Brian Houle, have been placed on administrative leave, and the local prosecutor, Scarlett A. Wilson, said this week that she was reviewing the results of an investigation conducted by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Ms. Wilson, the Ninth Circuit solicitor, said she expected to decide whether criminal charges are warranted in the case before the end of June.
On Friday, civic leaders appealed for calm in and around Charleston, where angry protests, including rioting and looting, occurred in late May after a Minneapolis police officer killed an African-American man, George Floyd, while he was in custody.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: The New York Times, Richard Fausset