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Jamal Sutherland died after being shocked repeatedly during encounter, videos show

Still image from surveillance video shows Sutherland with deputies atop him.jpg
Still image from Charleston County jail surveillance video shows Jamal Sutherland with Deputy Brian Houle and Sgt. Lindsay Fickett atop him. (Provided: Charleston County Sheriff's Office)

The Charleston County Sheriff's Office late on Thursday night released hours of visceral surveillance and body-worn camera video showing what led up to the death of Jamal Sutherland.

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Sutherland, who suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, died at the Charleston County jail the morning of January 5, 2021, after his arrest the previous night on misdemeanor assault charges stemming from a fight at a mental health facility where he'd been receiving treatment.

Dozens of videos released by Sheriff Kristin Graziano Thursday night at the request of Sutherland's family showed deputies attempting to forcefully extract him from his cell to a court room.

Sutherland repeatedly shouted "hallelujah" from inside his cell. Deputies ask him several times to come to the door of his cell so he can be placed in handcuffs and walked from the jail to the magistrate's court for a bond hearing. Officers pepper sprayed him after he remained in the corner of the cell.

Deputy Brian Houle opened Sutherland's cell and fired his taser at Sutherland, striking him and sending Sutherland to the ground.

Deputy Houle and Sgt. Lindsay Fickett, who had come to assist with removing Sutherland, then ordered Sutherland to slide on his butt across the floor to the door, after Sutherland claimed he couldn't walk.

Sutherland slid to the door, and asked "What is the meaning of this?" When ordered to roll over onto his stomach so he could be handcuffed, Sutherland refused, saying he would only roll over onto his side.

Houle and Fickett then entered the cell and began handcuffing Sutherland, repeatedly ordering him to surrender his hands and "stop resisting." An officer tasered Sutherland as he was being handcuffed. Sutherland was tasered at least six times, based on the videos the sheriff's office provided, including statements by Houle himself caught on video.

While he was convulsing, Sgt. Fickett had straddled Sutherland's hips and lower back, while Houle planted his knee across Sutherland's shoulder blades.

The last words Sutherland clearly can be heard saying on the videos are "I can't breathe." The two detention deputies placed a spit hood on Sutherland after he stopped struggling.

Soon after the deputies handcuffed him and dragged him out of the cell, Sutherland thrashed his legs before falling limp and going motionless.

Deputy Houle and Sgt. Fickett next attempted to lift Sutherland from the ground and place him in a wheelchair with restraints, but a nurse who'd arrived at the scene raised an alarm something was wrong after noticing Sutherland was unresponsive.

Jail guards removed Sutherland from the chair, placed him face-up on the ground, and removed his handcuffs. For the next seven minutes, a group of nurses attempted to rouse Sutherland, who was still breathing and twitching. Some in the room questioned if he was having a seizure.

The grave condition Sutherland was in became apparent shortly before 10:04 a.m. Nurses had been trying to put a neck brace on Sutherland, but quickly shifted to administering CPR after Sutherland stopped breathing and medical staff found no pulse.

For another 14 minutes, five nurses and two paramedics who'd arrived at the jail took turns giving Sutherland chest compressions. Then, paramedics placed a manual chest compression machine on Sutherland, which pumped for another 22 minutes before medical staff gave up their life-saving efforts.

The Charleston County Coroner's Office has not ruled on the manner of Sutherland's death, unwilling to point to one action or event that definitively claimed his life.

However, Coroner Bobbi Jo O'Neal on Thursday announced her ruling on the underlying cause of his death, saying it was the result of his excited state and "adverse pharmacotherapeutic effect" suffered while fighting with jail staff.

Along with the release of the videos, Sheriff Graziano released a statement Thursday night regarding Sutherland's death, saying in part, "What occurred on Jan. 5, 2021, was a horrible tragedy. (...)This unfortunate tragedy has revealed an opportunity to review existing policies. Similarly, we are looking at ways to improve safety for our staff members and the residents of our detention center. Since this tragedy occurred, we have assessed our resources and are evaluating options for global improvement, including a focus on mental health awareness."

Graziano added she has often in her career seen law enforcement officers forced to take on responsibilities involving mentally ill patients despite not being properly trained to do so.

"This must be changed, and I am committed to implementing that change," Graziano said. "These are systemic issues that our nation is facing on a daily basis. As sheriff, I regret that this occurred. I will continue to work with our judicial system, health care professionals, and community to ensure we are continually improving our processes and promoting the safety of all our residents and staff. This will require a lot of work, and we will continue to engage our community in conversations around these topics."

The case remains under internal investigation by the Sheriff's Office, and was the subject of a recently completed external investigation by South Carolina's State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Scarlett Wilson, the state prosecutor for South Carolina's 9th Judicial Circuit, says her office is reviewing SLED's findings, and expects to make a decision on potential criminal charges related to the case by June.

Deputy Houle and Sgt. Fickett have been reassigned to other duties with the sheriff's office pending the outcomes of the state and internal investigation, a spokesperson previously said.

(ABC News 4 staff continues to review the several combined hours of surveillance, body camera and cell phone video provided by the sheriff's office, and will frequently update this story with information and copies of the videos as time allows. Stay with us for updates to this developing story.)