Last year, I had the privilege of reuniting Sarah Markham with her baby boy. If you recall, Sarah Markham is the vegan mom who lost her baby to child protective services after insisting on vegan formula. It took us more than five months to reunite mother and child, and the experience reminded me how broken and dysfunctional the system is. Now I’m embroiled in another high-profile fight, this time to reunite Baby Penelope with her mother, Jesse McCreery. It’s been 9 days since Jesse has seen Penelope -- and it’s not because Jesse has been prohibited from seeing the baby; she has been permitted supervised visits. It is simply because DCF has been unwilling or unable work with the foster parents to coordinate the visits. That is unacceptable and is more criminal than any act Jessica is alleged to have done.
For more than five months, we’ve been fighting for answers regarding how and why Mathew Ajibade died while in custody at the Chatham County Detention Center in Savannah, Georgia. Last week, we learned that Mathew’s death has been ruled a homicide from blunt force trauma -- but we didn’t get this information from the Sheriff or from the District Attorney: it was leaked on the Internet.
Since we have been on the case, 9 deputies involved in the incident with Mathew have been fired. The jail administrator has stepped down. Policies have been changed and a consultant has been brought in. But it is not enough. These actions have been taken only after we brought public scrutiny to the case, and we feel it is all an effort to distract attention from the real problem: systematic failures stemming from the poor leadership of the Sheriff himself, and systemic biases against those who need help most: mentally challenged individuals and any citizen arrested and housed in a correctional facility.
This week, we filed a motion seeking to have District Attorney Meg Heap replaced, citing her multiple conflicts of interest including her cozy relationship with the Sheriff. Last week, I appeared on CNN as an advocate, urging that the powers in Savannah be transparent and forthcoming so Mathew’s family can get the answers they deserve, and so that don’t have to endure the torment of learning the details of Mathew’s death as they are leaked out, one by one, on the Internet.
The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is hosting a panel discussion on Race and the Criminal Justice System. I’ll be joining a distinguished panel moderated by Miami attorney David Rothman. The panel will include:
Marlene Sallo, the Acting Chief of Public Affairs for the United States Commission on Civil Rights;
Don Lemon, noted journalist and anchor of CNN Tonight;
Daryl Parks, prominent civil rights attorney who gained national recognition as an advocate for the family of Trayvon Martin; and
Charles Olgetree, esteemed Harvard law professor and founder of the school’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.
The discussion is part of the FACDL’s 28th Annual Meeting. It will begin at 11:25 AM on Saturday, June 13th at THE RITZ-CARLTON, KEY BISCAYNE. I hope to see many of you there.
Regret is defined as a feeling of sorrow or remorse for an act. 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.
We know the Sheriff contacted Georgia Bureau of Investigation, that was mandatory.The concern we have is that it was thirteen weeks ago. We know from recent events in Baltimore that an investigation, when intended to occur with velocity, can in fact occur with velocity. The GBI will be held to task for why it took them 120 days to investigate a death caused in one location by a group of known individuals with a known result. His family, his friends and all citizens of Savannah care less about "possible policy violations that may have occurred" than they do about what happened to Mathew, and why.
While we appreciate the Sheriff's suggestion that he has fully cooperated with GBI, he has failed to act with human decency and integrity by denying his family any sense of closure or the respect we deserve as we continue to mourn Mathew's death, still in ignorance of how it happened.
If, as he stated, the Sheriff has made changes requiring better safeguards for those who suffer from mental health illness and has further modified his security cross-checks for the failing that resulted in Mathew's death, why will he not disclose those changes? Are they not public? Only in this way might he begin the process necessary to re-instill any sense of trust in a facility that is housing, injuring or killing many of Savannah’s citizens. The day of hiding behind the opaque curtain of "ongoing investigation" must come to an end. If law enforcement desires to regain the trust of the citizens they are meant to protect, then transparency must prevail, and shrouds of secrecy and darkness perpetrated by undisclosed investigations must cease.