Jury asked to convict Georgia jailers in death of detainee

AP News
Posted: Oct 14, 2015 7:05 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A 21-year-old Savannah man in handcuffs and leg chains screamed "I'm going to die" as a sheriff's deputy shocked him four times with a Taser in a jail cell, and a supervisor later ignored the injured detainee's cries as he was left alone to die, a prosecutor said Wednesday as she asked a jury for criminal convictions against both jailers.

Mathew Ajibade died strapped to a restraint chair at the Chatham County jail a few hours after he was arrested on a domestic violence charge Jan. 1. Two deputies who were fired afterward — Jason Kenny and Maxine Evans — were charged with involuntary manslaughter and have been on trial since Oct. 6.

Jurors heard closing arguments in the case Wednesday. Prosecutors argued Kenny's use of excessive force against a "defenseless" Ajibade and Evans' failure to check his condition every 15 minutes as required at the Chatham County jail were reckless actions that played key roles in his death.

Ajibade had been bloodied by punches and kicks in a fight with deputies trying to book him when he was shackled and taken to an isolation cell. Kenny told investigators he used a Taser on Ajibade because he was still "combative" despite being restrained. Prosecutor Christy Barker noted video recorded by the Taser's camera showed otherwise.

"He is slumping in the chair, there is no fight in him and Mr. Kenny uses the Taser anyway — not once, not twice, not three times, but four," Barker told the jury. "And how does Mathew respond? He's screaming, 'I'm going to die!'"

Defense attorneys said the deputies and a third defendant, jail nurse Gregory Brown, were selectively prosecuted to take the blame for a much larger set of failures by the sheriff's department and local police.

Willie Yancey, Kenny's attorney, blamed an "incompetent sheriff" and poor training for a series of systemic failures that led to Ajibade's death — from police not telling jailers they had been told Ajibade suffered from a mental illness to deputies placing him in a remote isolation with no surveillance cameras where he was more difficult to monitor.

"What we have here is a civil case that the state wants to make a criminal matter out of," Yancey said.

Defense attorneys also seized on testimony of medical examiners whose autopsy failed to uncover a single cause of death.

During a fight with deputies before he was restrained, Ajibade yanked one jailer to the ground, grabbed her Taser and used it shock another. One deputy punched him in the face twice, and after he fell another kicked at him twice. The first kick struck Ajibade in the head, the second sent the Taser spinning across the floor.

None of the deputies involved in the fight were charged after investigators determined their use of force was justified. The autopsy report on Ajibade concluded he suffered "sudden death associated with physical altercation with law enforcement personnel and subsequent restraint."

Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner Kris Sperry told jurors during the trial that Ajibade was "stressed to death."

Evans was charged for failing to perform checks on Ajibade's condition every 15 minutes after he was restrained. Surveillance video from the jail showed he was left alone for 90 minutes before Evans found him dead, and at times he could be heard crying for help.

Bobby Phillips, Evans' attorney, said she was busy with other duties in the aftermath of the violent fight that left her short on help.

"She did not intend to harm Mr. Ajibade, she did not intend to neglect him and she did not intend for him to die," Phillips said.

A mistake by investigators prompted the judge Tuesday to order Brown, the jail nurse, be acquitted of involuntary manslaughter. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent acknowledged on the witness stand he gave incorrect information about Brown's responsibilities to the grand jury that indicted the three defendants in June.

Brown is still charged with helping Evans falsify a jail log and with lying to investigators. His attorney, Tom Withers, argued that the agent's error shows "the facts don't matter" to investigators or prosecutors in the case.

The judge sent jurors home for the night after closing arguments ended. They will begin deliberations Thursday.