Originally published on June 27, 2015, at NationofChange.org
A grand jury indicted two former deputies and a contract healthcare worker on felony involuntary manslaughter and related charges on Wednesday for beating and tasing a 21-year-old computer science student to death. Although the student was strapped to a restraining chair and left to die in an isolation cell, the grand jury dropped the murder charge against the deputy directly responsible for killing him. After the coroner ruled his death a homicide, nine deputies were fired last month for their participation in taking the student’s life.
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. According to the indictment, Cpl. Jason Kenny repeatedly shot Ajibade with a Taser and 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.
Although Cpl. Maxine Evans and health care nurse Gregory Brown were responsible for conducting routine welfare checks on Ajibade, they left him to die in the isolation cell instead. In order to cover up their crime, Cpl. Evans and Brown allegedly falsified records in a Corrections Bureau Restraint Chair Log to appear as though they had routinely monitored Ajibade’s health. Besides falsifying records, Brown has also been charged with lying to Agent Cyrus Purdiman of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) by falsely stating that he performed welfare checks on Ajibade while he was in restraints.
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.
On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted Cpl. Evans, Cpl. Kenny, and Brown on felony involuntary manslaughter charges. Although the jury dropped the murder charge against Cpl. Kenny, they charged the former deputy with aggravated assault and cruelty to an inmate for tasing Ajibade while he was restrained and causing willful inhumanity to him.
Along with the manslaughter charges, Cpl. Evans and Brown were also charged with public record fraud for falsifying records in the Corrections Bureau Restraint Chair Log. Brown, an employee of Corizon Health, has also been charged with making a false statement to the GBI agent investigating Ajibade’s death. According to a statement from Corizon Health, the Department of Corrections has revoked Brown’s clearance and he has been placed “on administrative leave pending the outcome of the legal proceedings and until all of the facts are known.”
After learning that the grand jury failed to indict Cpl. Kenny for murder, the attorney representing Ajibade’s family, Mark O’Mara responded, “They are disappointed that nine out of 12 people involved in their son or cousin or brother’s death have gotten away without any criminal liability.”