News Article Details

Use-of-force cases often the most harrowing of documented deaths

Virginian-Pilot - 8/23/2018

Aug. 23--Of the 404 deaths of people with mental illness tracked by The Virginian-Pilot, there are 70 are cases in which jail staff members used force on the inmate -- shocking, pepper-spraying or restraining them, often in some combination.

The accounts of those deaths are among the most harrowing contained in the data.

Matthew Ajibade, a 21-year-old college student, was strapped to a restraint chair in the Chatham County Detention Center in Georgia in January 2015 as guards beat and shocked him.

Ajibade had been arrested on a domestic violence charge and, according to a lawsuit filed by his family, was suffering from a bipolar disorder.

He was placed in an intake cell for about three hours. During that time, he received no physical or mental health screening, according to the lawsuit. A medicine he needed to control his bipolar disorder, divalproex, was not given to him.

During intake, he was beaten and kicked in the head by corrections officers, the lawsuit states. After being placed in handcuffs, he was strapped into a restraint chair and a spit mask was placed over his face.

He was then shocked with a Taser capable of producing a 50,000-volt shock.

Incidents involving use of force generally occur after an inmate doesn't comply with commands or threatens or assaults officers.

It is difficult to determine whether someone is not complying with commands or is being aggressive because of mental illness, said Linda Bryant, the former assistant superintendent of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.

"The backdrop to all of this is balancing medical and mental health needs of the individual with the security and safety of not just that individual but other officers and other inmates and having to make these decisions in short periods of time," Bryant said.

After being placed in the restraint chair and shocked with a Taser, Ajibade was transferred to a holding cell about 11:50 p.m. and left alone there. Less than two hours later he was found dead.

At least 58 lawsuits tracked by the Pilot cited a use-of-force incident. The 4th Amendment to the Constitution forbids excessive use of force, something routinely alleged in the lawsuits.

A Georgia sheriff's deputy who used a stun gun on Ajibade was convicted of cruelty to an inmate, according to British newspaper The Guardian. He was fired along with eight other deputies and was given one month in jail and three years of probation.

He served the month on weekends.

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(c)2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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