Acquittals in the Homicide of Mathew Ajibade

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

Sometime in the early hours of January 2nd, 2015, Mathew Ajibade died while strapped to a restraining chair in the Chatham County Detention Center. For months, we’ve fought for answers from authorities in Savannah who went through great lengths to conceal the truth.

Two weeks ago, I sat silently next to Mathew’s cousin Chris in a courtroom -- not in the capacity of a lawyer, but as a victim’s advocate -- and we saw the evidence for the first time. We learned from videos that Mathew struggled with deputies only after they had violently tackled him to the ground. And we learned from graphic video that, while Mathew sat motionless in the restraint chair, he was tased in the groin -- an act I’ve called sadistic torture.

I also learned the disappointment of an anemic verdict -- all officers indicted were acquitted of manslaughter. I have, and always will, respect any jury’s verdict; they are the backbone of our criminal justice system. But the man who tased Mathew while restrained was even acquitted of aggravated assault and will face sentencing only for cruelty for an inmate. I’ve linked to the video of the tasing, but hesitate to recommend that you watch it.

Soon I’ll be able to serve Mathew’s family as a lawyer, not just an advocate, and I won’t have to sit silently in the courtroom.

What is Justice for Sam DuBose?

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

I sat down with reporter Amy Green from WMFE, our local NPR affiliate, to talk about the Sam DuBose Case. Amy referenced my recent CNN op-ed entitled “What Is Real Justice for Eric Garner?”, and she asked me what justice for Sam DuBose would look like. Sam’s family wants to make sure his memory is dignified, and that will only happen if Sam is one of the catalysts for fixing the criminal justice system -- particularly reforming how law enforcement officers interact with black men.

You can listen to my entire conversation on WMFE.org»

Mathew Ajibade Death Certificate Leaked on Internet

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

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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.

See my interview and the story on CNN.com»

From Zimmerman to DuBose

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

I appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes as an advocate for the DuBose family. Chris, like many others, pointed out the apparent dichotomy between my representation of George Zimmerman and my current representation of Sam DuBose’s family. The truth is that criminal defense attorneys are also civil rights attorneys. For 32 years, I’ve been representing citizens accused in the criminal justice system, and I know firsthand that minorities, and black men especially, are disproportionately represented. Whether the facts supported it or not, the Zimmerman case launched a social movement that has raised the national awareness of racial inequity in our justice system. Chris asks me if I had it to do over again, would I still have taken the Zimmerman case, and I say “absolutely.” I cannot deny that it has given me the opportunity to take other cases like Sam DuBose, Mathew Ajibade, and Sean Grant, and it has given me the opportunity to speak out against an injustice that I’ve been fighting my entire career.

View the entire interview on MSNBC.com»

RESPONSE TO SHERIFF AL ST LAWRENCE'S PRESS RELEASE

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

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.

We have filed a public records request to review the policy changes referenced in the Sheriff's press release»

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