SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – Two former sheriff’s deputies were acquitted Friday of involuntary manslaughter charges but still face prison time after being convicted of related crimes in the stun gun-related death of a 21-year-old jail detainee in southeast Georgia.
The verdict in the January death of Mathew Ajibade prompted attorneys for his family to criticize Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap for going after rank-and-file jailers rather than investigating lapses by Sheriff Al St. Lawrence and his senior staff.
“The reason justice was not done here was the district attorney started at the bottom instead of the top,” said Will Claiborne, an attorney for Ajibade’s family in Hyattsville, Maryland. “That gives the family no choice but to seek justice through the civil courts.”
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 Chatham County Superior Court 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.
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)