Sheriff dropped from lawsuit in jail death of restrained man
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A federal judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Georgia sheriff sued by the family of a man who died in jail after being strapped into a chair and shocked four times with a Taser.
Mathew Ajibade, 21, died in a cell at the Chatham County jail in Savannah hours after he was arrested on Jan. 1, 2015, following a fight with his girlfriend. Attorneys for his family said Ajibade was having a manic episode, after failing to take his medication for bipolar disorder, when he got into a bloody brawl with deputies trying to book him at the jail.
Investigators found that Ajibade was carried to a cell and strapped into a restraint chair after the fight. Deputies placed a mask over his face to prevent him from spitting. While Ajibade was restrained, a deputy used a Taser to shock him four times. He was still strapped to the chair when a jailer later found him dead.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker granted Sheriff John Wilcher’s request to be dropped from the lawsuit March 28, ruling no evidence showed the sheriff personally harmed Ajibade or established any policies or practices that ultimately violated the dead man’s rights.
“No one disputes the tragedy of Mathew Ajibade’s death and the emotional pain that his family has no doubt endured,” the judge said in his ruling. “Sherriff Wilcher cannot be held legally responsible for that tragedy merely due to his supervisory position.”
In 2016, Ajibade’s family filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Chatham County sheriff, the jail’s medical care contractor and several deputies.
The civil lawsuit accused the sheriff and others who worked under him at the jail for excessive use of force as well as indifference to Ajibade’s medical needs. The defendants included two deputies and a jail nurse who were acquitted of manslaughter charges in a 2015 criminal trial.
The deputy who used the stun gun on Ajibade, Jason Kenny, was convicted of cruelty to an inmate and was sentenced to a month in jail that he was allowed to serve on weekends. Kenny’s fellow jailer, Maxine Evans, was convicted of faking jail records and perjury and received probation, as did jail nurse Gregory Brown, who was found guilty of lying to investigators.
An autopsy found no single cause for why Ajibade died. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner told jurors during the criminal trial that Ajibade was “stressed to death.”
Civil claims against Kenny, Evans and Brown are still pending. So are claims against Corizon Health Inc., the jail’s former medical services contractor.
Wilcher wasn’t the Chatham County sheriff when Ajibade died. He inherited the role of defendant in the Ajibade lawsuit after being elected to replace Sheriff Al St. Lawrence, who died from cancer in November 2015.
The judge also dismissed all civil claims against two deputies — Debra Johnson and Andreux Evans-Martinez — who responded to the fight between jailers and Ajibade but remained outside the cell where he died in restraints.