Coroner changes death certificate, determines Jamal Sutherland died by homicide, attorneys say

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Oct 6, 2021, 10:01:06 AM via Website

The death certificate of Jamal Sutherland, a Black man who died in police custody after he was pepper-sprayed and shocked with a stun device in a jail cell, was amended to say the manner of death was homicide, attorneys representing Sutherland's family said.

Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal made the change after additional testing found that the death was "best deemed to be homicide," attorneys Mark A. Peper and Gary Christmas added.

"The family reached this same conclusion immediately upon seeing the video of his death, thus they are pleased with the amended finding and remain steadfast in their pursuit of justice for Jamal," they said.

O'Neal's office said they plan to hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to further discuss the amended death certificate.

While the coroner’s finding addresses the manner of death, it makes no determination on whether Sutherland’s killing was unlawful.

Sutherland, 31, died on Jan. 5, one day after he was arrested following a fight at a psychiatric facility where he was receiving mental health treatment.

Sheriff's deputies at the jail tried to remove Sutherland from his cell for a bond hearing. Video shows two deputies outside the cell and one deploying his Taser. The deputy appears to use the Taser repeatedly on Sutherland as he cries out in pain and writhes on the floor.

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A timeline of events published by NBC affiliate WCBD of Charleston indicated pepper spray was also deployed. Sutherland was pronounced dead one hour and 15 minutes after the deputies first tried to remove him from his cell and after nearly an hour of resuscitation attempts.

A pathologist who completed the autopsy on Sutherland ruled the manner of death as undetermined and said that Sutherland died "as a result of excited state with adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect during subdual process."

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who is investigating possible criminal charges, said in a press release Tuesday that after watching the video of Sutherland's death she was "surprised" the pathologist did not rule it a homicide.

"As I previously stated, I have sought a second opinion as to the autopsy results. Dr. Kim Collins, a renowned and board certified forensic pathologist, is performing the review," Wilson said. "While her work is incomplete, I expect a finding of homicide."

Two sheriff's officials, a sergeant and a detention deputy who were involved in the incident were fired. Last month, the Charleston County, South Carolina, council unanimously voted to settle Sutherland's death case for $10 million.

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