Man's death in Georgia jail cell ruled a homicide

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 05, 2015 1:08 PM

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The death of a Nigerian college student on New Year's Day in a Savannah, Georgia, jail cell has been ruled a homicide, officials said, and a grand jury will consider the case.

Matthew Ajibade, 21, was put in a restraining chair in an isolation cell after fighting with deputies on Jan. 1 and was later found unconscious, the Chatham County Sheriff's Office said.

An autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation revealed his death was caused by “blunt force trauma” with injuries to his head. The Chatham County coroner’s office said on Thursday it had been ruled a homicide.

No one has been criminally charged. Nine sheriff’s deputies were fired in early May over the incident, and the case is due to be presented to a grand jury later this month, said Mark O’Mara, the family’s lawyer.

“We want to know what happened,” O’Mara said on Friday. “How do you die in custody? They say blunt force trauma, that means they beat him. We also know he was tasered a couple of times.”

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office had no comment.

Ajibade, an artist and a student, was arrested Jan. 1 on a domestic violence charge. But O'Mara said the man's fiancée had called police seeking help for Ajibade, who was suffering a manic episode from his bipolar disorder.

“She wanted them to take him to the hospital, not jail,” the lawyer said.

Officials said Ajibade fought with deputies while being booked and had to be restrained. After making a check on Ajibade in the cell, deputies found him unconscious. He died at the jail.

His death occurred amid a spate of killings of black men by police across the country, including Baltimore, New York and Ferguson, Missouri, over the past year that have raised questions about officers’ use of lethal force.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Christian Plumb)