SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Nine months after Mathew Ajibade died alone in a jail cell while strapped to a chair, two sheriff's deputies have been acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in his death but still face prison sentences for related crimes.
The partial convictions Friday in Chatham County Superior Court did little to satisfy the 21-year-old Savannah man's family. An attorney representing Ajibade's relatives blamed prosecutors for targeting rank-and-file jailers instead of investigating lapses by Sheriff Al St. Lawrence and his senior staff — adding that a civil lawsuit will likely follow.
"I knew that that same system that failed Mathew would not be the system that got him justice," Chris Oladapo, a cousin of Ajibade, said in a statement provided by the family's attorneys. "I had already warned my family not to expect anything. We expected nothing, and we got nothing."
District Attorney Meg Heap said her prosecutors had no choice but to focus on deputies whose actions were directly responsible for Ajibade's death.
After eight days of trial testimony and two days of deliberations, the jury convicted former Cpl. Jason Kenny of cruelty to an inmate for shocking Ajibade four times with a Taser while his hands and legs were restrained. The charge carries one to three years in prison.
Kenny was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and perjury charges punishable by up to 40 years in prison combined.
Despite being acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, ex-Cpl. Maxine Evans could face up to 40 years in prison after being found guilty of public records fraud and three counts of perjury for lying to a grand jury. Prosecutors accused her of failing to check Ajibade's medical condition and faking jail logs to make it appear the checks were performed.
Sentencing was scheduled for Nov. 6.
Ajibade was found dead in a cell hours after being arrested Jan. 1 on a domestic violence charge. Before he was booked, a fight broke out between Ajibade and several jailers. Though Ajibade was bloodied by punches and kicked in the head, no deputies involved in the fight were charged with crimes. Investigators concluded deputies were justified to use deadly force during the fight because Ajibade injured two jailers and grabbed a Taser.
Prosecutors focused their criminal case on what they said were reckless acts by the two ex-deputies after the fight. They said the acts played key roles in Ajibade's death. An autopsy found no single cause and Dr. Kris Sperry of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Ajibade was "stressed to death."
"We knew from the beginning the cause of death was going to be an issue," Heap said. "But I just felt with the inhumane treatment, this needed to go to a jury. You wouldn't even treat a dog this way."
Kenny told investigators he shocked Ajibade with a Taser while Ajibade was being placed into a restraint chair with his hands already cuffed and legs chained. Evans was accused of failing to ensure Ajibade's condition was checked every 15 minutes, as the jail required. Surveillance video showed he was left alone for 90 minutes before Evans found him dead.
Evans' attorney, Bobby Phillips, said it "seemed like a vindictive prosecution."
Kenny's attorney, Willie Yancey, said he wouldn't second-guess the jury. "We accept it and we're going to try to get Jason on with his life," he said.
Kenny told investigators Ajibade was "combative" as jailers tried to strap him into the chair, but prosecutor Christy Barker said video from the Taser's built-in camera showed him "slumping in the chair. There is no fight in him."
Jail nurse Gregory Brown had also been charged with involuntary manslaughter. But the judge acquitted him on that charge Wednesday after an investigator testified he gave incorrect information about Brown's duties to the grand jury that indicted him.
Brown was convicted Friday of making false statements to investigators.
Attorneys for Ajibade's family say he suffered from bipolar disorder and they suspect he had a manic episode at the jail.
The sheriff fired eight deputies, including Kenny and Evans, in connection with Ajibade's death.