Federal Officials Close Review of the Death of Jamal Sutherland
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that it will not pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against two former Charleston, South Carolina, sheriff’s deputies for the tragic death of Jamal Sutherland. Sutherland died on Jan. 5, 2021, after deputies forcibly extracted him from his cell at the Charleston County Detention Center.
Officials from the Justice Department informed representatives of the Sutherland family of this determination.
Experienced federal prosecutors at the Justice Department reviewed evidence obtained by the FBI and state investigators to determine whether the force used against Sutherland violated any federal laws, focusing on the application of 18 U.S.C. § 242, a federal criminal civil rights statute that prohibits certain types of official misconduct. They conducted an analysis of the evidence, including reports, law enforcement accounts, witness statements, physical evidence reports, training materials, photographs and videos of the incident. They also reviewed the Charleston County Solicitor’s Office’s public report on Sutherland’s death, including the expert force and medical analyses referenced in that report, which laid out the reasons why the state declined to pursue criminal charges.
Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by the law. Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation. After this review, prosecutors determined that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that deputies willfully violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes. Accordingly, the review of this incident has been closed without a federal prosecution. This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute cases under federal civil rights laws; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the incident that led to Sutherland’s death.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, the Civil Rights Division and the FBI are committed to investigating allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated. The department will aggressively prosecute criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.
Derek A. Shoemake, (843) 813-0982