Originally published on June 6, 2015, at NationofChange.org
The death of a 21-year-old computer science student in police custody has been ruled a homicide from blunt force trauma and has resulted in the termination of nine deputies who strapped him to a restraining chair on New Year’s Day and allegedly beat him to death. Although the county attorney’s office initially claimed that the deputies were fired last month for general policy violations, the coroner confirmed on Thursday that the deputies lost their jobs on the same day that he signed the student’s death certificate. The student’s family only became aware of the death certificate’s existence after a photograph of the document was leaked on social media.
Responding to a domestic disturbance at 6:15 p.m. on January 1, Savannah-Chatham police confronted a Savannah Technical College student named Matthew Ajibade and his girlfriend. According to the police report, Ajibade refused several commands to release his girlfriend and began resisting arrest. Officers slammed Ajibade to the ground before handcuffing him.
Ajibade was charged with battery against his girlfriend and resisting arrest. As officers subdued Ajibade, his girlfriend asked them to take Ajibade to the hospital and gave them his Divalproex medication, which treats the manic phase of bipolar disorder and seizures. Ajibade had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder three years earlier.
Instead of taking Ajibade to the hospital, officers transported him to the Chatham County jail at 6:40 p.m. While being booked, Ajibade allegedly became combative with deputies and attacked them. According to the sheriff’s office, a female sergeant suffered a broken nose and a concussion while two male deputies suffered injuries consistent with a fight.
Deputies placed Ajibade in an isolation cell and strapped him to a restraining chair. They reportedly shot Ajibade with a Taser and repeatedly struck him in the head and upper body as he remained strapped to the chair. While performing a welfare check on him the next morning, deputies found Ajibade unresponsive. Medical staff administered CPR and attempted to restart his heart with a defibrillator. A coroner pronounced him dead at 8:45 a.m.
On May 7, Cpl. Maxine Evans and Cpl. Jason Kenny were placed on administrative leave pending further investigation into Ajibade’s death. The next day, Chatham County Coroner William Wessinger ruled Ajibade’s death a homicide by force blunt trauma. According to his death certificate, Ajibade suffered multiple abrasions around the head and blood inside the skull case. He also had several injuries to his upper body.
On the same day that Dr. Wessinger signed the death certificate, nine deputies were fired from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. After concluding an internal affairs investigation into Ajibade’s death, Sheriff Al St. Lawrence fired Cpl. Maxine Evans, Cpl. Jason Kenny, Pvt. Eric Vinson, Pvt. Abram Burns, Pvt. Christopher Reed, Pvt. Burt Ambrose, Pvt. Paul Folsome, Pvt. Frederick Burke, and Pvt. Andrew Evans-Martinez. According to the sheriff’s office staff, deputies Greg Capers, Benjamin Webster, and Lt. Debra Johnson were also involved in the incident but were either fired or retired before the other terminations.
In light of internal investigations, the sheriff has also instituted new policies including notifying onsite medical personnel when inmates arrive with medication, reviewing the use of nonlethal force, and restricting the use of Tasers on prisoners in restraints. Although Ajibade’s death has been ruled a homicide, no deputies have been charged yet with killing him. District Attorney Meg Heap has announced that she plans to seek an indictment from a grand jury.
Ajibade’s family became aware of his death certificate after a photograph of it was recently leaked and appeared on social media. Under Georgia law, relatives and their attorneys can obtain copies of death certificates. But authorities never informed the family that Ajibade’s death certificate had been filed nearly a month ago.