Jamal Sutherland: Justice Department won’t file charges against two former South Carolina lawmakers in Sutherland’s death


The Justice Department will not file federal criminal civil rights charges against two former Charleston, South Carolina, sheriff’s deputies for their involvement in the in-custody death of Jamal Sutherland, the agency announced Wednesday.

Sutherland, 31, died in January 2021 after deputies “forced him out of his cell” at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Al Cannon Detention Center, the Justice Department said in a news release.

Sutherland was in jail for an incident at a behavioral health center in which he was charged with “the misdemeanor count of simple assault on a staff nurse,” the family’s attorney, Mark Peper, said at the time. Sutherland was being treated for mental illness at the center, Peper said.

Jail surveillance footage and body-worn camera video released by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office show deputies pepper-spraying Sutherland inside his jail cell and testing it multiple times.

The two deputies involved in the deadly interaction – Sgt. Lindsay Fickett and Arresting Deputy Brian Houle – fired in May 2021.

After reviewing whether the deputies’ use of force constituted misconduct, the Justice Department concluded that “there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the deputies willfully violated federal civil rights statutes.”

Prosecutors reviewed information obtained by FBI and state investigators to determine whether there was enough evidence to argue that one of the officers knowingly and intentionally deprived Sutherland of a constitutional right. Their review includes reports, law enforcement accounts, witness statements, training materials, photos and videos, among other things.

The department also reviewed a report into Sutherland’s death by the Ninth Circuit State Solicitor’s Office that detailed why the state declined to charge the officers.

When Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced that her office would not file criminal charges, she said, “I cannot prove criminal intent in this case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Sutherland’s mother, Amy Sutherland, told CNN on Wednesday, “There is no justice for my son.”

“I didn’t expect it to be any different than what they did. I no longer believe in the justice system like I used to. It’s like everyone made the same statement,” he said.

“I’m confused,” Sutherland said. “I’m really confused how you can see a murder on camera, a court can see a murder and no one is charged with a murder. It’s very hard for me.”