Charleston, South Carolina (WCSC) – The family of a man who died in custody at the Charleston County Jail has filed a lawsuit against a lowercountry mental health facility.
Jamal Sutherland, 31, died after Charleston County deputies attempted to forcibly remove him from his cell so he could attend an assault charge hearing on the morning of January 5.
The charge stemmed from an incident the night before at Palmetto Behavioral Health in North Charleston, in which police were called to respond to a report of a brawl between inmates. Lawyers for the Sutherland family said Sutherland was not involved in that fight, but was accused of assaulting a staff member after he became angry when North Charleston police responded to the facility.
special section: Jamal Sutherland dies
Amy, the mother of Jamal Sutherland, filed the lawsuit Thursday against Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health, Palmetto Behavioral Health Solutions, Wellpath, LLC, a company that provides health care to inmates at the Al Cannon detention center, and four of its medical providers or escorting agents.
The lawsuit alleges medical negligence and general negligence.
Sutherland voluntarily entered the facility days before his death
The suit states that Sutherland had a history of mental health disorders including chronic paranoid schizophrenia. Sutherland voluntarily checked himself into Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health for treatment on December 31, a facility where he has been admitted nearly 10 times since 2009 to treat his mental illness, the lawsuit states, adding that his December 31 admission included “a more severe and acute level of crisis”. Mental health “.
The suit alleges that the facility’s medical records state Sutherland’s symptoms at the time of his last admission were “life-threatening, devastating or disabling to himself or others and that he required acute inpatient care.”
Court documents indicate that Sutherland’s psychosis and related symptoms worsened between December 31 and January 4 and the lawsuit alleges that Palmetto employees “failed to take proactive steps to adequately treat him.”
If Palmetto had taken such proactive steps, the physical altercation that prompted Palmetto to inappropriately take steps to apprehend Mr. Sutherland and send him to detention,
As he was eventually imprisoned and died on January 5, 2021, he could have been completely avoided,” the lawsuit states.
Sutherland tried to leave the facility to no avail
On January 4, Sutherland reportedly requested his discharge, but was involuntarily ordered to be admitted due to the risk of harm to himself or others, the lawsuit alleges.
Later that day, “while I was still in the midst of an ongoing mental health crisis that was inappropriately treated and managed by saw palmetto,” the lawsuit alleges, a physical altercation between two other patients led to a fight between Sutherland and a male nurse employee. As a result of this fight, Palmetto’s nursing staff called the police and “insisted” that Sutherland be arrested and “stated intent to press charges,” causing Sutherland to be handcuffed and detained in the Charleston County Jail on a misdemeanor assault charge, suiting the states.
“Had Palmetto provided Sutherland with appropriate psychiatric treatment or transferred him to another psychiatric facility or hospital for appropriate treatment rather than calling the police department and sending him to a detention center, Sutherland’s death after a forced cell removal on January 5, 2021 could have been completely avoided.” ‘, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit raises concerns about admission and treatment within prison
The suit also alleges that Palmetto employees did not provide the Charleston County Jail with Sutherland’s medical history, discharge summary, transfer note, or other “sufficient documentation or information” regarding his mental health condition, symptoms, history or medications he needed to allow “appropriate continuity of care” in the prison.
The lawsuit also alleges that Sutherland was showing “obvious signs of his ongoing serious mental illness crisis” including yelling “mock, paranoid phrases including, I’m Illuminati” and “stating out loud that he was a victim of mental illness and the patient was in Palmetto, including including statements made in the presence of a Wellpath nurse or a member of the medical staff in the holding room.” The suit alleges this should have served notice to Wellpath that Sutherland needed “immediate psychiatric evaluation and treatment”.
Instead of being placed in the prison’s Special Management Unit, which “specifically houses inmates who need an immediate mental health assessment”, he has been placed in the prison’s Behavior Management Unit, which is “designated for inmates with behavioral problems”.
The suit alleges that none of the WellPath medical or mental health professionals completed an “appropriate mental health assessment” and that the Wellpath employee present upon admission “unexplainedly classified Sutherland as a ‘routine’ mental health patient rather than an emergency or urgent, and simply entered Referral for a preliminary mental health assessment. The suit states that this assessment was not made, or at least was conducted appropriately, prior to his death in prison the next morning, without receiving “appropriate psychiatric treatment or administering psychiatric medications.”
On the morning of Sutherland’s death, Wellpath sent a paramedic to attend the Sutherland cell extraction, “even though Wellpath knew (or should have known) that the detention center deputies and their paramedic lacked the appropriate education, training, or qualifications to safely complete the extraction.” Forced cell of a patient suffering from a mental health crisis.
After detention representatives used a Taser on it multiple times and it became unresponsive “in the presence of one or more Wellpath personnel,” Wellpath personnel “did not intervene with an appropriate level of urgency or diligence to assess and treat it,” the lawsuit states. Instead, they delayed the initiation and management of CPR efforts or other appropriate treatment steps to clearly address his condition,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit states that the family is seeking reparations for Sutherland’s wrongful death, including his family’s grief and suffering, and is asking for a jury trial. The lawsuit does not specify the specific damages it is seeking, but states that the damages are “in excess of $100,000.”
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