ATLANTA (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Monday in the criminal trial of two former deputies and a jail nurse in the death of a restrained Nigerian college student in a Savannah, Georgia jail cell.
The coroner wrote on the death certificate that Matthew Ajibade, 21, died from blunt force trauma on Jan. 1 “after a physical altercation with law enforcement personnel,” and ruled it a homicide. But the full autopsy report has yet to be released.
The family’s separate civil suit says that Ajibade suffered a manic episode from bipolar disorder and his girlfriend called for help to get him to the hospital. Instead, deputies arrested him.
The police report said that deputies responded to a domestic violence call and Ajibade was arrested on charges of domestic violence, battery and resisting arrest.
A deputy suffered a broken nose in the altercation, officials said. Ajibade was put in restraints after fighting with officers and was later found unresponsive in his cell, officials said. He was pronounced dead at the jail, the coroner’s report says.
The family’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said that Ajibade, an artist and computer science student at Savannah Technical College, was beaten and shocked with a Taser multiple times while he was handcuffed, strapped into a restraining chair and left alone in a cell to die.
Nine deputies were fired after the incident and three people were charged criminally.
Jason Kenny, Maxine Evans and Greg Brown were each charged with involuntary manslaughter, arrest records show. Kenny was also charged with aggravated assault and cruelty to an inmate. Evans was also charged with public record fraud, and Brown, the nurse, was also charged with public record fraud and making false statements.
Chatham County Sheriff Al St Lawrence said in a May press release that he initiated stricter rules on when Tasers can be used, rules for additional checks on inmates with mental illnesses and other measures.
Ajibade’s death occurred at a time of renewed national debate over law enforcement’s use of deadly force, especially against minorities, and scrutiny of a number of killings and deaths in custody of African Americans and Hispanics.
The trial before Chatham County Superior Court Judge James Bass Jr. is expected to last more than a week.
Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Cynthia Osterman