Mathew Ajibade died alone in an isolation cell, bound by the hands and feet, strapped in to a restraint chair.
He had been brutally beaten, his body covered with bruises and abrasions. There were scrapes and bumps on his upper body and head, the result of being repeatedly punched and kicked by his jailers. Minutes later, secured and compliant in a special unit, a Taser was pressed directly on his genitals. Hit with 50,000 volts, the young man is heard on video obtained by NBC News screaming in pain.
And then, they left him there to die.
This was not a Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib but south Georgia.
Ajibade was a 22-year-old “geeky” college student who had gone to Savannah to study computer science. The county coroner ruled his death a homicide, citing blunt force trauma. As Ajibade took his last breath, still strapped in to a restraint chair, police allegedly falsified logbooks and failed to monitor him. The people who were bound to protect him, to ensure his safety, now stand accused of killing him.
It has been 10 months since his death first captured national headlines, 10 months since the lies began. For 10 months, the Ajibade family has been fighting for the truth. They never believed the official story and, it appears, they were right.
Nine Chatham County sheriff’s deputies have been fired after a probe conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Two former deputies and a jailhouse nurse were indicted on charges last June that included involuntary manslaughter, cruelty to an inmate, and public records fraud. They are now on trial, facing a jury of their peers and forced to defend the indefensible.
Ajibade was diagnosed with bipolar disorder three years ago, according to his family, and was having a medical emergency at the time of his arrest on New Year’s Day. When police, responding to a domestic violence call, arrived that evening, his girlfriend told them about his mental health issues and even gave the officers a bottle of his medication. Instead of a health care facility, Ajibade was taken to the county lock-up. Hours later, he was dead.
Police say he became “combative” during the booking process and they allege that he began fighting with deputies. An incident report says three deputies were injured in the tussle. Ajibade was hit with the Taser multiple times and then taken to an isolation unit, where he supposedly continued to fight the deputies. Jail employees say they found him unresponsive some hours later, around 1:38 a.m., still strapped to the restraint chair in the cell and still wearing the spit mask they had placed over his face.
A newly released video, taken from the stun gun, tells a different story. Ajibade wasn’t fighting. He wasn’t moving at all when a deputy sheriff placed the high voltage device directly against his groin and fired.
O’Mara, who is perhaps best known for his defense of George Zimmerman, told NBC News the family is considering a civil suit. He called the latest video, taken directly from the Taser and shown in court, “disgusting and vile.”
“It is nothing less than torture,” he said.
There can be no greater shame than what happened to Mathew Ajibade and what his family has endured. The Taser cam video, released publicly in the courtroom last Friday, contradicts almost everything in the initial reports made by the deputies.
But for that video, which state investigators seized during their initial probe, their stories might have been believed. They may never have questioned the logbooks or the use of the Taser. If pressed, few in Savannah, a historic tourist town situated along the southeast Georgia coast, or elsewhere would have remembered Mathew Ajibade’s name. The public would never have known about the horrors Ajibade endured. But for a video, there would likely have been no indictment, no trial, and Ajibade would be just another social media hashtag. The nine county deputies who participated in and/or lied about the circumstances surrounding his death would still be on the job.
But for a video, their lies would have lived on and we would never have known the truth.
UPDATE 10/13/15 6:32 P.M.: This story has been updated to give reporting and video credit to NBC News and link to its original stories.