Nine Georgia deputies from the Chatham County Sheriff's Office were fired Friday, officials announced, after the death in custody of a 22-year-old black man in Savannah on New Year's Day.
Matthew Ajibade was found dead in jail on Jan. 1 after being placed in an isolation cell due to "his dangerous behavior," the Sheriff's Office said at the time. After being arrested by local police on charges of domestic violence, battery, and resisting arrest, Ajibade had "become combative during the booking process and was subsequently restrained," the Sheriff said. During his restraint, he was said to have injured three deputies, including a female staffer who suffered concussion and a broken nose.
According to the Savannah Morning News, local clergy said Ajibade suffered from bipolar disorder and was handcuffed to a chair before a Taser was used on him.
Details of the exact cause of Ajibade's death remain scant while the local district attorney continues to investigate the matter, but Sheriff Al St. Lawrence has since instituted a "clear written policy of when Tasers may not be used." Other changes announced included "new security procedures with the jail to audit the use of Taser devices and reconcile such use with standard documentation and current Use of Force policies," according to the Sheriff.
In addition to an external investigation into the incident by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, St. Lawrence launched his own internal inquiry into the matter. "Upon receipt of the GBI’s
completed investigation, approximately two weeks ago, the Sheriff instructed Internal Affairs to again review the actions of the deputies involved as well as the policies of the Department with the evidence obtained by the GBI," St. Lawrence said in a statement Friday, adding that he "deeply regretted" the death.
Those fired from the Sheriff's office Friday include 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. Corporals Evans and Kenny had already been suspended over the incident.
Two others were said to be "no longer employed...for policy violations not related to this incident," while another deputy was said to have retired.
"Like all of you, the loss of a young life is a tragedy and the Sheriff's Office is always deeply concerned when someone dies in custody," St. Lawrence said on Wednesday. "That is especially true in this case."
The firings came after Florida attorney Mark O'Mara, who is representing the Ajibade family, called for action to be taken. "Regret is defined as a feeling of sorrow or remorse for an act," O'Mara wrote on Thursday. "Regret is hollow if it doesn’t carry any action with it. Mathew's family and friends demand more than Sheriff Al St. Lawrence’s deep regret, we demand his action."
“The fact that nine people were fired tells us how terrible this incident was,” Will Claiborne, a Savannah lawyer also representing the Ajibade family, told the Savannah Morning News. “But the family still has no answers about what happened to Matthew. We again call on the sheriff and DA to be transparent while we seek justice for Matthew.”