October trial date set for ex-deputies in Georgia jail death

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A judge on Thursday set an October trial date for two former sheriff’s deputies and a nurse charged with involuntary manslaughter in the case of a 21-year-old detainee who died in restraints at a county jail.

Mathew Ajibade of Savannah was found dead inside a cell and strapped to a restraining chair after he fought with deputies booking him into the Chatham County jail on domestic violence charges Jan. 1.

A grand jury indictment on June 24 said former Cpl. Jason Kenny shocked Ajibade with a Taser while he was being held in restraints. It also said Cpl. Maxine Evans and jail nurse Gregory Brown failed to perform required welfare checks on Ajibade, though they falsified paperwork to make it appear they had done so.

Evans’ defense attorney has requested a speedy trial, insisting the ex-deputy did nothing to cause the detainee’s death. Superior Court Judge James Bass set an Oct. 5 trial date Thursday after prosecutors pressed for a little more time, saying they plan to add perjury charges against Evans and Kenny.

Bobby Phillips, Evans’ attorney, said perjury charges would stem from statements the two deputies made to the grand jury. He said any charge that Evans lied under oath would be “totally bogus” and sounded confident he could beat the manslaughter charge.

“She didn’t touch him, she didn’t (shock) him, she didn’t assault him,” Phillips said. “I’m ready to try this case tomorrow.”

Evans could be alone standing trial in October. Brown’s attorney, Tom Withers, has asked the judge to try the ex-contract nurse separately from the two deputies and said his client’s not ready to face a jury. Kenny and his lawyer, Willie Yancey, didn’t show up for court Thursday.

The indictments have done little to clear up questions about how Ajibade died in custody. Savannah police arrested him on New Year’s Day after a fight with his girlfriend. While being booked at the jail, authorities say, Ajibade became violent and injured three deputies — leaving one with a broken nose and a concussion.

Attorneys for Ajibade’s family in Hyattsville, Maryland, say he suffered from bipolar disorder and his girlfriend gave police a bottle of his prescription medication when they arrested him.

Sheriff Al St. Lawrence ultimately fired eight deputies in connection with Ajibade’s death. But authorities have refused to make public his autopsy or other documents, citing the open investigation.

The indictment blames Kenny, Evans and Brown for causing Ajibade’s death. However, a copy of the young man’s death certificate released by his family lists the cause of death as blunt-force trauma. Dr. Bill Wessinger, the Chatham County coroner, confirmed Ajibade suffered several blows to his head and upper body and there was blood found in his skull case.

Pre-trial court filings by Evans’ attorney say Ajibade was kicked in the head by another deputy who has not been charged in the case.

“This kick likely was the ‘blunt force trauma’ that resulted in the death of Mathew Ajibade,” says the June 29 court filing by Evans’ lawyer.

Evans’ court filings also say that during the fight with deputies, Ajibade snatched a Taser from one of the jailers he injured.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Meg Heap, Kristin Fulford, declined to comment on Evans’ allegation that a deputy who isn’t being prosecuted may have inflicted the fatal injury. She said Heap does not discuss pending cases.

The coroner said in June that it didn’t appear that any single injury killed Ajibade.

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