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Jailers in California, Georgia Acquitted of Abusing Prisoners

In unrelated cases, jail guards charged with abusing prisoners were acquitted of the most serious charges filed against them in California and Georgia.

Former jail deputies Christopher Johnson and Robert Kirsh were acquitted by a federal jury on the most serious charges stemming from an assault on prisoner Charles Alonzo Owens on June 17, 2013, at the Santa Barbara County Jail. Owens, 25, has since been convicted of several crimes and sentenced to life without parole.

A grainy, jumpy surveillance video of Kirsh beating the handcuffed Owens was shown during a week-long trial. In September 2015, the deputies were acquitted of aiding and abetting and deprivation of rights under color of law, but Johnson was convicted of the lesser offense of obstruction of justice for failing to report Kirsh. That was the deputies’ second federal trial; the first resulted in a hung jury.

In January 2016, Johnson was sentenced to six months on house arrest, three years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

In February 2016, Santa Barbara County settled Owen’s lawsuit related to the assault for $60,000. Kirsch and Johnson had both filed suit against the county as well, contending the county should have provided counsel for their criminal defense. County officials subsequently settled Johnson and Kirsch’s complaints, agreeing to pay the former jailers $25,000 and $27,000, respectively.

In Georgia, a jury acquitted two former sheriff’s deputies of involuntary manslaughter in the January 2, 2015 death of mentally ill Chatham County jail prisoner Mathew Ajibade, 21, who had been arrested for allegedly hitting his girlfriend. Surveillance video showed an agitated Ajibade at one point thrashing about in the booking area. He was kicked and punched during a physical confrontation with deputies, then shocked with a Taser, hog-tied and carried to a cell with a restraint chair. No one involved in that confrontation was charged, as investigators determined that Ajibade had injured two deputies and grabbed a Taser, justifying the use of force.

After Ajibade was strapped into the restraint chair, former Cpl. Jason Kenny used a Taser on his groin four times. Video showed Ajibade was left unattended, slumped in the restraint chair, for an hour and a half. When a welfare check was finally made, he was dead.

A coroner’s report ruled the death a homicide. The sheriff fired eight deputies, including Kenny and Cpl. Maxine Evans, who was convicted of lying to a grand jury and public records fraud – the latter for falsifying jail documents to make it seem welfare checks had been properly conducted.

In October 2015, following an eight-day trial and two days of jury deliberations, Kenny and former jail nurse Gregory Brown were both acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, the most serious charge they faced. Kenny was also acquitted of aggravated assault and perjury, but convicted of cruelty to a prisoner. Brown was convicted of perjury for falsely telling the court he had checked on Ajibade every 15 minutes. They were sentenced in November 2015.

Brown received a three-year suspended sentence, a $1,000 fine and 100 hours of community service. Evans was sentenced to six years of probation, 350 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine, while Kenny received one month in jail with the option to serve his jail time on weekends, three years of probation and a $1,000 fine, plus his law enforcement/correctional officer certification was suspended.

In March 2016, Ajibade’s family filed a lawsuit against Chatham County Sheriff Roy Harris, jail administrators, twelve deputies, a nurse and the jail’s private medical contractor, Corizon Health. That case remains pending. See: Ajibade v. Harris, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ga.), Case No. 4:16-cv-00082-WTM-GRS. 

Sources: Associated Press,,,,


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Related legal case

Ajibade v. Harris