Three Jail Workers Charged In Death Of Black Student

06/25/2015 10:13 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2015
Chatham Police

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Mathew Ajibade was arrested on a domestic violence charge in January and was later found dead, strapped to a chair in a county jail in Savannah, Georgia. A grand jury on Wednesday indicted two former jail employees and a health care worker in the college student's death, yet another in a list of fatal encounters between law enforcement and black men.

Former jail workers Maxine Evans and Jason Kenny and contract health care worker Gregory Brown are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Kenny is also charged with aggravated assault and cruelty to an inmate. Evans and Brown are charged with public record fraud, and Brown faces an additional charge of making a false statement. It's unclear if they have attorneys.

Ajibade, 21, was found dead Jan. 1 strapped to a chair inside an isolation cell at the Chatham County Jail. The man had been stunned with a Taser while he was restrained, was left unmonitored, and a log book had been falsified to say that checks were conducted on him that hadn't been, according to the grand jury bill.

The Savannah College of Art and Design student had been arrested after a fight with his girlfriend. The sheriff's office has said Ajibade injured three deputies during a fight and one deputy suffered a concussion and a broken nose.

Attorneys for Ajibade's family say he suffered from bipolar disorder and his girlfriend gave police a bottle of his prescription medication when they arrested him.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to handle the case, and few details were released about what happened to Ajibade in the jail. Brown is accused of lying to a GBI agent about checking on Ajibade while he was in restraints.

On May 8, Sheriff Al St. Lawrence announced that nine deputies had been fired in connection with Ajibade's death. On June 4, attorneys for Ajibade's family released a copy of his death certificate, which showed the coroner had ruled his death a homicide caused by blunt-force trauma.

Dr. Bill Wessinger, the Chatham County coroner, said Ajibade suffered several blows to his head and upper body and some blood was found in his skull case.

"My recollection is none of them by themselves would have necessarily been fatal," Wessinger recently said of the injuries.

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap announced weeks ago that she planned to ask a grand jury for indictments in Ajibade's death.

Ajibade's family in Hyattsville, Maryland, has hired attorneys including Florida defense lawyer Mark O'Mara, who defended former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Those lawyers have asked a Savannah judge to disqualify Heap as top prosecutor on the case, arguing she has political reasons to ignore possible criminal charges against the sheriff. Heap dismissed the claims as baseless.

O'Mara has said he suspects Ajibade was having a manic episode at the jail when deputies "beat the (expletive) out of him to get control of him."

O'Mara said Wednesday that the indictment is "too little too late." The fact that the grand jury found that there was aggravated assault coupled with the fact that there was a death should have led to a felony murder charge unless Heap wasn't really trying to secure that charge, O'Mara said.

"That's been our concern all along that she was going to whitewash this case as a benefit to the sheriff and in derogation to Mathew's death," O'Mara said.

He added, "It would be nice to say every one of them should have been charged with murder, but that might be unrealistic," O'Mara said. "But here's my frustration: We have been kept so in the dark about the facts in the case that we really don't know."

Heap said in a statement that state law prevents her from discussing specifics of the case.

"In Georgia, all Grand Jury presentments are secret by statute of law. When an officer is charged with committing a crime while on duty, the law gives them the right to be present and make a statement. Other than those officers, the prosecutors and the jurors, no one is aware of what was presented during the proceedings," she said.

The case has put an uncomfortable spotlight on St. Lawrence, the 80-year-old sheriff who has held the office since 1992. The sheriff has promised changes since Ajibade's death. He fired the deputies deemed responsible, hired consultants to review jail operations and temporarily removed all stun guns from the jail until deputies could be re-trained in their proper use.

"I ain't covering up for nobody. OK?" St. Lawrence told reporters at a June 4 news conference.

At the same time, the sheriff has stood up for his employees who work at the 2,300-bed jail. He said on average 41 deputies are injured each month in scuffles and fights with inmates.

The inmates are "not the nicest people in the world, a lot of them," St. Lawrence said. "...I'm not running a summer camp here. I'm running a prison."

The sheriff released a statement Wednesday saying he is saddened by Ajibade's death and continues to work with Heap "to ensure justice is served."

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