2 ex-deputies acquitted of manslaughter in inmate's TASER death
They were charged in the January death of Mathew Ajibade, who was found dead in a cell hours after being arrested on a domestic violence charge
By Russ Bynum
SAVANNAH, Ga. — Two former sheriff's deputies were acquitted Friday of involuntary manslaughter but convicted of lesser charges in the stun gun-related death of a 21-year-old detainee at a county jail in southeast Georgia.
A Chatham County Superior Court jury found former Cpl. Jason Kenny guilty of cruelty to an inmate and ex-Cpl. Maxine Evans guilty of public records fraud and lying to a grand jury.
They were charged in the January death of Mathew Ajibade (ah-jih-BAH-dee), who was found dead in a cell hours after being arrested on a domestic violence charge. Though Ajibade was bloodied by punches and was kicked in the head, no deputies who took part in the fight were charged with crimes. Instead, prosecutors said reckless acts by the two ex-deputies afterward played key roles in Ajibade's death.
Kenny shocked Ajibade four times with a Taser while his hands and legs were restrained and Evans failed to check Ajibade's condition while faking jail logs to make it appear checks were made, prosecutors said.
Evans' attorney Bobby Phillips said it "seemed like a vindictive prosecution."
"I'm disappointed she got convicted at all," Phillips said.
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.
Jurors heard a week of testimony about Ajibade, a Savannah man who was arrested after a fight with his girlfriend on New Year's Day. He died alone in a cell, strapped into a restraint chair.
Kenny told investigators Ajibade was "combative" as jailers tried to strap him into the chair, but prosecutors said video from the Taser's built-in 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," prosecutor Christy Barker told the jury in her closing argument. "And how does Mathew respond? He's screaming, 'I'm going to die!'"
The jail requires security staff to check on inmates in restraint chairs every 15 minutes, and Evans was a supervisor in charge of ensuring they happened. Surveillance video showed Ajibade was left alone in a cell for 90 minutes before Evans found him dead.
Gregory Brown, a nurse at the jail, had also been charged with involuntary manslaughter. But the judge acquitted Brown 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 found guilty of making false statements to law enforcement.
Jailers testified Ajibade fought violently as they tried to book him. Surveillance video showed Ajibade was stunned with a Taser twice before he grabbed the weapon and yanked the deputy who fired it to the floor. He used the Taser to shock another deputy.
One deputy punched Ajibade twice in the face, knocking him to the floor. Another kicked at the detainee twice — one kick struck Ajibade in the head, the other sent the Taser spinning across the floor.
Investigators concluded deputies were authorized to use deadly force to stop Ajibade once he had the Taser.
Attorneys for Ajibade's family in Hyattsville, Maryland, say he suffered from bipolar disorder and they suspect he was had a manic episode at the jail.
State medical examiners testified an autopsy found no single cause of Ajibade's death. Dr. Kris Sperry of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Ajibade was "stressed to death."
Defense attorneys argued the autopsy findings made it impossible to hold any single person responsible for Ajibade's death. Kenny's lawyer argued the defendants were taking the blame for an "incompetent sheriff" and poor training.
"What we have here is a civil case that the state wants to make a criminal matter out of," Yancey said.
Sheriff Al St. Lawrence fired eight deputies, including Kenny and Evans, in connection with Ajibade's death.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press