It was the late Sheriff Al St. Lawrence’s last news conference — June of last year.
Defiant, he defended his office’s use of tasers in the Chatham County jail.
“I’ve heard this business about the use of the taser and how we use it randomly and use it all the time. That’s not the truth. We use it when we have to,” St. Lawrence said.
After Mathew Ajibade’s death in the jail after being tased four times while in full restraints, then Chief Deputy — now Interim Sheriff – Roy Harris ordered a taser review and took the devices away from deputies.
But WSAV News 3 has now uncovered evidence indicating both St. Lawrence and Roy Harris were informed of widespread under-reporting of taser usage ten months before the deadly encounter.
It came from Tom Gilberg, the jail administrator who retired after Mathew Ajibade’s death.
“They should have known because I don’t have any special skills. They were reading the same logs I was,” Gilberg said.
During a management audit of the jail in March 2014, Gilberg told the auditor in an interview about units not keeping and sharing data such as taser strikes.
He wrote in a written personal statement of “…hundreds of lost unit reports and thousands of unapproved reports…”
And earlier than that, in October of 2013 — fifteen months before Ajibade’s death — he alerted then-Chief Deputy Harris that end of year reports had not been completed since 2009.
The audit was ordered by St. Lawrence and directed by Harris.
“I was continually putting up flares, saying ‘we need to watch this, we need the logs. We’re not doing anything, we’re not sending the reports.’” Gilberg said. “And I was pretty much told to mind my own business.”
WSAV News 3 requested this management audit conducted by former Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Major Bob Oliver. It blamed Gilberg and his predecessor John Wilcher — who’s now running for sheriff — for creating a hostile work environment in the jail.
But when the county produced the audit, Gilberg’s interview and personal statement — which identified the pre-existing taser problems — was not included.
“When these things happened, people are ready to lay blame and not want to take accountability. I’m more than willing to do that myself.”
It was only after WSAV notified the county attorney and now-interim Sheriff Harris that the omissions may violate Georgia law that they produced the rest of the document.
“Because it had the time and date stamp showing I warned them of this in ’13,” Gilberg said.
Gilberg does not hold the late sheriff responsible for the omission.
“I think he was doing the best he could,” Gilberg said.
But in the wake of St. Lawrence’s death late last year, Bob Oliver, who performed the audit, was standing behind Interim Sheriff Harris in support of his campaign kickoff.
And according to the most recent disclosures, he’s donated 200 dollars to Harris’ campaign.
“[Harris] politicized it,” Gilberg said. And he politicized it with the idea that one day he wanted to be sheriff. It’s unfortunate. And it needs to stop.”
Interim Sheriff Harris would only agree to an interview on this and other topics if we submitted written questions to him 24 hours in advance. WSAV would never agree to such a condition for an interview.