Georgia sheriff sued for death of restrained jail detainee

AP News
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Posted: Mar 30, 2016 4:48 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheriff has been sued by the family of a 21-year-old Savannah man who died in a jail cell last year after a brawl with deputies who ended up strapping him into a restraint chair before shocking him four times with a Taser.

The parents of Mathew Ajibade filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court against Chatham County Sheriff Roy Harris and others who worked under him at the county jail. Also named as defendants were Corizon Health Inc., the jail's contractor for medical services, as well as a nurse and 12 deputies who were on duty at the time of Ajibade's death.

Ajibade died hours after he was arrested on Jan. 1, 2015, following a fight with his girlfriend. Attorneys for his family say Ajibade was having a manic episode, after failing to take his medication for bipolar disorder, when he got into a bloody brawl with deputies trying to book him at the jail.

A criminal trial against two deputies and a jail nurse last year revealed that Ajibade was carried to a cell and strapped into a restraint chair after the fight, and deputies placed a mask over his face to prevent him from spitting. While he was restrained, a deputy used a Taser to shock Ajibade four times. He was still strapped to the chair when a jailer later found him dead.

Because of excessive use of force by deputies as well as indifference to Ajibade's medical needs by Corizon staff, "Mr. Ajibade endured extreme physical, mental and emotional pain and suffering, and death," said the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages.

An autopsy found no single cause for why Ajibade died. Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner Kris Sperry told jurors during the criminal trial that Ajibade was "stressed to death."

The sheriff's spokesman, Pete Nichols, and county attorneys had no immediate comment Wednesday.

Martha Harbin, a Corizon spokeswoman, said the company was surprised to be named in the lawsuit. During the trial, the judge ordered Corizon nurse Gregory Brown to be acquitted of manslaughter charges after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent acknowledged on the witness stand he gave incorrect information about Brown's duties to a grand jury.

Based on the trial judge's findings, "no act or omission on behalf of Corizon Health or its medical staff was found to be contributory in the death of Mr. Ajibade," Harbin said in an emailed statement.

A jury ultimately acquitted the deputy who shocked Ajibade in the cell, Jason Kenny, and fellow jailer Maxine Evans of manslaughter charges as well.

Kenny was sentenced last November to a month in jail, which he was allowed to serve on weekends, and nearly three years on probation after he was found guilty of cruelty to an inmate. Evans, convicted of faking jail records and perjury, was sentenced to probation along with Brown, who was found guilty of lying to investigators.

The trial did little to satisfy Ajibade's family in Hyattsville, Maryland. His cousin, Chris Oladapo, criticized prosecutors for targeting rank-and-file jailers rather than the sheriff and his senior staff.

It's unclear ultimately which sheriff will have to defend against the lawsuit. Harris was chief deputy when Ajibade died and was named acting sheriff after Sheriff Al St. Lawrence died in November from cancer.

Just four months later, Harris was defeated Tuesday night in a runoff election to fill the remaining months of St. Lawrence's term. A new sheriff, retired jail administrator John Wilcher, will soon take the badge. But Harris could make a comeback. An election for the sheriff's next four-year term will be held in November.