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O'Connell can't recall

Register • Feb 12, 2014 at 6:28 AM

Detective Sean O'Connell appears to have conducted an administrative review for the Fremont Police Department immediately after the death of Craig Burdine at the Sandusky County jail in 2007.

But the detective didn't interview the officers involved and had trouble recalling details of his review when he was deposed about it three years later. 

"Do I recall the specifics? No. Did I read their reports? Yes. Was I comfortable with the way the reports read? Absolutely," O'Connell testified. "I did not find the need to go back and conduct another interview on the officers involved when they've already completed a report that I felt was thorough and complete and was sufficient for my investigation." 

Click here to read O'Connell's deposition

At the time, O'Connell was a Fremont police detective. His report appears to be a kind of risk assessment for whether Fremont officers who arrested Burdine and brought him to the jail could be found culpable for any wrongdoing in his death. 

He was not investigating how Burdine died, O'Connell said, because that was being looked at by the sheriff's office since jail guards had taken custody from the Fremont police by that time. He talked with then sheriff's captain Kyle Overmyer and others at the sheriff's office about their investigation but didn't know, or remember, anything about it, he said. 

O'Connell also said he asked Overmyer and sheriff David Gangwer for video surveillance from inside the jail several times but eventually gave up on getting any video that might have existed, or answers from either man as to why it wasn't being provided or or otherwise confirmed that video existed. He figured he didn't need the jail video, O'Connell said, and let it go. 

Question: "You never considered the possibility of foul play by your officers?"

O'Connell: "I did not."

Question: "You never considered foul play as a possibility by the Sandusky County sheriff's personnel?"

O'Connell: "I didn't even give that a thought."

Question: "And why didn't you give that a thought?"

O'Connell: "Because that's their investigation. What happened out there in the jail between the jailers and Mr. Burdine that's between them. Let them do their investigation."

At one point during the deposition O'Connell appears to become exasperated by the questions: 

Question: "What did (officer) Daniels tell you occurred in the changing room (inside the jail)?" 

O'Connell: "I don't know. I don't recall. I'd have to go back." 

Question: "Did he tell you what occurred in the changing room?" 

O'Connell: "I don't recall the specifics, sir. I'd have to go back and look at the reports. I remember reading the reports." 

Question: "You made that clear, you've said that several times, I'm talking about you speaking with them."

O'Connell: "OK, sir, you've asked me that question 10 times and I've asked — answered that I do not know."

But O'Connell was clear about his thoughts on the death of Craig Burdine.

"My conclusion is that our officers done no wrong based on the circumstances involving Mr. Burdine's demeanor that particular night," O'Connell testified.

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O'Connell also said he and Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer had a strong working partnership back in 2007 when O'Connell was a Fremont police detective and Overmyer was a captain with the sheriff's office. Overmyer became sheriff in 2008 after Gangwer died suddenly and he hired O'Connell in 2012 after O'Connell retired from the Fremont Police Department. 

"We did a lot of drug work for the county back in the day," O'Connell said during the deposition taken on Oct. 4, 2010, related to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Craig Burdine's family. 

O'Connell did the heavy lifting, however, when it came to dealing with then Sheriff Gangwer. 

"Kyle (Overmyer) at the time was one of these captains where, I hate to use the word, my right-hand man so to speak, but I'm the one that did the bulk of the work," O'Connell testified. 

Burdine died after being brought to the Sandusky County Jail on Aug. 7, 2007. The county contends he died a sudden death due to drug and alcohol intoxication, but Burdine's family and a renowned coroner who reviewed the autopsy reports and witness statements contends he was the victim of homicide. Burdine suffocated due to the fractured cartilage in his neck suffered when he was being restrained by jail guards or some other time earlier.  

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has been conducting a criminal investigation since August, triggered after Craig Burdine's father, Jess Burdine pressed for a criminal probe. A spokesman for the AG said local officials never conducted a criminal investigation after Burdine's death. 

O'Connell disagrees.

"There was a very thorough investigation done by the Fremont Police Department," he told the Register last week after the AG's office stated there was no prior criminal probe.  

Between the Lines Live

Watch at noon Thursday, Feb. 13 at sanduskyregister.com with guests Jess Burdine, Craig Burdine's father, and his other son, Eric Burdine. Post questions for them in the comments section. 

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