A county in South Carolina has voted in favour of awarding $10m in damages to the family of Jamal Sutherland – a Black man who died after he was forcibly removed from his jail cell in January.
WSCS, a South Carolina news station reported that the Charleston County Council reached the unanimous decision on Tuesday evening, settling the case of Sutherland, 31, who died after police officers repeatedly used stun guns and kneeled on his back. He suffered from mental health issues.
His death ignited protests and demands for criminal charges against those responsible.
The council’s chairman Teddie Pryor on Tuesday called for reform in the jail where Sutherland was held.
“We definitely need reform in our detention facility,” Pryor said, according to WSCS. “I have been researching that and I’m going to bring some other matters before this council regarding that.”
In an interview with ABC News 4, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office will decide whether to file any charges in connection with Sutherland’s death by the end of June.
The settlement comes as the nation marks the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd’s death set off nationwide protests calling for an end to police brutality and the disproportionate use of force against Black Americans.
In March, Floyd’s family was awarded $27m in a settlement with the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. And in September last year, Louisville, Kentucky, agreed to pay $12m to the family of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot dead in her home during a botched police raid.
Sutherland’s case was set off earlier in May after videos were released showing officers repeatedly using stun guns after he refused to come to the door of his cell to be handcuffed when deputies arrived to take him to a court appearance. After Sutherland ignored commands to kneel, deputies entered the cell and pepper-sprayed Sutherland, ordering him to get on his stomach.
Two sheriff’s deputies involved in Sutherland’s death, Sergeant Lindsay Fickett and Deputy Brian Houle, have been fired.
In January, officials had released a statement on Sutherland’s death, noting that deputies had “reported an unresponsive inmate” and notified state police, as is standard. At the time, the two deputies were placed on administrative leave with pay.
Sutherland was originally booked on charges of third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanour. Officers said they were called to investigate a fight at Palmetto Behavioral Health, a mental health and substance abuse centre, and arrested Sutherland as a result.
A lawyer for the Sutherland family said that Sutherland’s schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were so severe that he should never have been held in a non-medical portion of the jail, and that the videos portrayed a “use of force that was so unnecessary and excessive that there are no words”.