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Ninth Circuit Solicitor says more time needed in Sutherland criminal investigation

sutherlandfamily_2.jpg (copy)

Amy Sutherland, her husband, James Sutherland Sr., and their son, Jamar, stand with a photo of their son and brother, Jamal, at their home on June 23, 2021, in Goose Creek. Jamal Sutherland died at Charleston County jail after sheriff's deputies forced him to the ground on his stomach and repeatedly used stun guns and pepper spray against him in January. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she needs more time to review and collect evidence in the criminal investigation into Jamal Sutherland's death. 

Wilson was expected to make a decision by month's end on whether to criminally charge detention deputies Brian Houle and Lindsay Fickett for their roles in the death of the 31-year-old mentally ill man during a cell extraction Jan. 5 at the Charleston County jail. 

Wilson said June 29 that her office was continuing to investigate the case, however.

"Both the community and the Sutherland family deserve a thorough investigation and that is exactly what we are providing," Wilson said. 

The solicitor said Dr. Kimberly Collins, who was retained to perform an autopsy review in the case, has requested assistance from a forensic toxicologist, so her office has retained Dr. Laura Labay, a forensic toxicologist for NMS Labs in Pennsylvania. 

Wilson said her office also obtained additional evidence and conducted interviews last week that are relevant to a use-of-force expert's review of the case. 

The Charleston County Coroner's Office has also requested additional forensic testing in the case, which may have a bearing on the case, Wilson said. 

Earlier this month, Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O'Neal announced she had recategorized Sutherland's manner of death from undetermined to homicide. 

At a June 16 news conference, she said Sutherland died of a cardiac event when he was forcibly removed by detention deputies from his cell on Jan. 5. 

She said three factors led to his death: his excited state, a change in his medication while he was at Palmetto Behavioral Health and the "subdual force" used by deputies to extract him from his jail cell, which included tear gas, Taser shocks and physical force. 

O'Neal said she believed the medication change at Palmetto Behavioral Health, where Sutherland was admitted by his family Jan. 4, combined with the detention deputies' use of force justified changing the manner of death to homicide. 

Wilson previously said she expected Collins would also determine Sutherland's death was a homicide, but the term homicide does not necessarily mean a crime has been committed. 

Reach Steve Garrison 843-607-1052. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT.

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