Why Did Mathew Ajibade Die in Chatham County Detention Center?

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

mathew ajibadeIn the very early hours of January second, Mathew Ajibade, known to his friends as Matt Black, died in a restraining chair at the Chatham County Detention Center.

Earlier on New Year’s Day, Mathew, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, experienced a manic episode where he struck out against his fiancee, Fisayo Odewole. Understanding Mathew’s mental illness, Fisayo called 911 to get help for Mathew. In her panic, however, she was not specific about the nature of the emergency, and instead of sending an ambulance, 911 dispatched police officers.

Despite Fisayo’s objections, police, after seeing the injury to her face, decided to charge Mathew with domestic violence and battery. Obstruction was added to the charges when Mathew resisted the arrest. Fisayo says she told the police about Mathew’s condition and asked them to take him to the hospital. She gave officers Mathew’s medication, and she even called Mathew’s employer, who understood Mathew’s condition, so they could further vouch for Mathew and document his condition.

Fisayo said that the officers promised to take care of Mathew, but instead, many hours later, they showed up at her door to explain that Mathew “had died.”

Instead of taking him to the hospital, officers took Mathew to the Chatham County Detention Center. A press release from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office says that Mathew became combative during the booking process. While being restrained, Mathew injured three officers, and one officer suffered a concussion and a broken nose. Mathew was subsequently placed in an isolation cell and restrained in a chair. During a second welfare check, it was discovered that Mathew had died.

We don’t know the cause of Mathew’s death. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted an autopsy on January 6th, and we expect to get an answer as soon as possible. But even if we discover the cause of Mathew’s death, the autopsy won’t necessarily tell us why Mathew died. Why wasn’t he taken to the hospital? Did officers take into account Mathew’s mental illness? How was he allowed to die while in officer’s care? You are not supposed to die from bipolar disorder.

These are the questions Mathew’s family have, and on Monday, they contacted me to see if I would help them get the answers. I agreed. Right now, there is so much we don’t know about the events that led to Mathew’s death. We hope that there was no wrong-doing or negligence that contributed to the death, but we are suspicious, and we have questions. We expect that the agencies involved in the investigation of this tragedy will be forthcoming, transparent, and expeditious in providing the answers we seek.

This case raises issues with how police deal with minorities and how they contend with people with mental illness. In the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there is a crisis of confidence in our criminal justice system. There is an opportunity now for leaders in Savannah, Georgia to show the nation how to properly deal with this type of tragedy. We and the rest of the nation is watching.

Mathew’s brother and friends have put together a website at Matt3lack.com to show who Mathew was, and to raise funds for funeral costs for friends and family in Maryland, and a memorial for friends in Savannah.