SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Prosecutors preparing for a manslaughter trial against two Georgia jailers and a nurse in the death of a 21-year-old detainee said Wednesday their case will dispute a coroner's finding that the young man died from blunt-force injuries.
Mathew Ajibade of Savannah was found dead in a cell at the Chatham County jail. He had been strapped into a restraining chair after fighting with deputies trying to book him on a domestic violence charge Jan. 1.
Two ex-deputies and a former jail nurse are scheduled to stand trial next week.
Prosecutors say Ajibade died after Cpl. Jason Kenny shocked him four times with a Taser while the detainee was in arm and leg restraints. Cpl. Maxine Evans and nurse Gregory Brown are accused of failing to perform welfare checks on Ajibade and of falsifying jail records to make it appear they had done so.
Prosecutor Christy Barker asked a Superior Court judge Wednesday to prohibit defense attorneys from introducing Ajibade's death certificate — which says he died from blunt force trauma — as evidence unless the coroner who issued it also testifies and can be cross-examined.
Barker said the coroner's conclusion that Ajibade died from blunt force injuries "directly conflicts with the actual autopsy report in this case."
It's still unclear exactly how Ajibade died. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has not released the autopsy conducted by state medical examiners, citing the open death investigation. Barker did not elaborate on the autopsy results.
After a copy of Ajibade's death certificate was released in June, the Chatham County coroner, Dr. Bill Wessinger, said Ajibade suffered several blunt injuries to his head and upper body and had blood inside his skull case.
None of the three defendants charged in the case are accused of striking Ajibade or otherwise causing blunt-force injuries. Court filings in the case have said a deputy who wasn't charged in the case kicked Ajibade in the head during the jailhouse brawl. The filings say Ajibade seriously injured two jailers and snatched a Taser before he was restrained.
Bobby Phillips, Evans' defense attorney, said Wednesday he plans to call the coroner as a witness.
Barker said the jury will hear a different account of Ajibade's death from state medical examiners who performed the autopsy.
"Dr. Wessinger had no contact whatsoever with this body," Barker said. "The two people who actually performed the autopsy ... are telling me they never said blunt force trauma was the cause of death."
Reached by phone Wednesday, Wessinger said he reached his conclusion after discussing the autopsy results with the chief medical examiner. The coroner said any dispute over his findings was about "semantics mostly" as opposing attorneys try to poke holes in the other side's case.
"I put down what was reasonable and what I thought the chief medical officer concurred with," Wessinger said. "I think I had reasonable grounds to put what I did."
Savannah police arrested Ajibade on New Year's Day after a fight with his girlfriend. Attorneys for Ajibade's family in Hyattsville, Maryland, say he suffered from bipolar disorder and his girlfriend gave police a bottle of his prescription medication when they arrested him.
Sheriff Al St. Lawrence ultimately fired eight deputies, including Kenny and Evans, in connection with Ajibade's death.