NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Newly released emails show the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was monitoring social media posts of activists and at least one state lawmaker a day before the release of the Jamal Sutherland video.
“The Security Threat Analysis Unit is actively monitoring Social Media and News Outlets regarding any information related to the death of Jamal Sutherland,” sheriff’s office employee Willis Walker wrote in a May 12 email to command staff at the sheriff’s office.
Back in January, Sutherland died less than 24 hours after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge at a North Charleston facility serving people with mental illnesses.
While inside the sheriff’s office’s jail, Sutherland declined to go to a bond hearing that he was not legally required to attend. He was then tasered multiple times, pepper sprayed, and handcuffed. Body camera video also showed that a detention deputy placed a knee on Sutherland’s back.
Walker’s email, which was released by Charleston County in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, includes multiple screenshots of social media posts from State Representative Wendell Gilliard and community activists such as Kwadjo Campbell and Justin Hunt.
The social media posts by all of those included asked for the body camera footage showing Sutherland inside the jail to be released.
“It feels like I’ve been invaded somewhat,” Gilliard said on Thursday, adding that Sheriff Kristin Graziano “has some explaining to do.”
“It was pretty unfair to criminalize me for defending a victim of police violence,” Campbell said.
The sheriff’s office declined a request for an interview, referring questions to the SEAHAWK Interagency Operations Center, which has not yet responded. SEAHAWK is run by the Coast Guard, according to a Joint Base Charleston representative.
“Our analyst assigned to the Seahawk Operations Center is responsible for informing us of any intelligence or information that may forecast a potential public safety concern in our community, regardless of whether we are the agency that is directly involved,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Roger Antonio wrote in an email. “That has always been their role.”
“I think that when we put in these roles of leadership, when you’re wrong, you need to say that you’re wrong and you need to apologize to the right people and keep moving forward,” Gilliard said. “But if you don’t do that, then you’re going to have problems, and I will lead the way for that.”
It is not yet clear how often activists and elected officials are monitored on social media by local law enforcement agencies.
“What we see here is a deflection of the violence perpetrated by their officers and trying to paint those asking for justice as the violent ones,” Hunt, who is the president of the Stand As One group, wrote in part in a statement. “There are multiple alt right and neo-fascist groups right here in Charleston like the Proud Boys that are allowed to organize and speak freely. Yet the sheriffs office unjustly directs their attention to black activists who simply seek justice for victims of racial violence and discrimination.”
On its website, the sheriff’s office describes the Security Threat Analysis team as being responsible for gathering crime data and criminal intelligence, noting that they are “vigilant in preserving public safety and trust.”
“We don’t want to be labeled a security threat to our community because we speak out and defend people that have been victims of violence from law enforcement,” Campbell said.
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