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Judge's secret gag order intact

Register • Feb 23, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Clerk of courts Tracy Overmyer confirmed last week two residents who serve as Sandusky County's “commissioners of jurors” selected the grand jury that heard evidence in the death of Jacob Limberios.

But Overmyer refused to respond to a public records request for information about when they met or how they selected the grand jury. She also refused to provide any standing records related to the grand jury process, erroneously suggesting the documents were subject to a secret gag order from visiting judge Dale Crawford.

“Anything pertaining to this grand jury will remain under seal until I am ordered to do otherwise by Judge Crawford,” Overmyer told the Register last week.

The primary documents requested are unrelated to the Limberios grand jury. Other documents requested are unrelated to the grand jury proceedings or deliberations, but would include some information about it leading up to the appointment of the Limberios grand jurors.

Overmyer and judge Crawford, however, suggested Crawford's secret gag order applied to the public records beyond the scope of the Limberios grand jury proceedings.

The gag order also is subject to itself, Overmyer said, and was to remain secret by order of Crawford. There also is no case number assigned to the order or the investigation.

“I am unable to forward that order, because it states that it should be included in the documents held under seal,” Overmyer wrote on Wednesday.

Crawford could not be reached for comment. He has a mal-functioning email account through the Ohio Supreme Court. Overmyer reviewed the public records request with him, however, and sent the Register a message from the judge that suggests he is mis-interpreting what documents are being requested.

“Judge Crawford asked that I forward this email to you,” she wrote to the Register Thursday.

Crawford's message also suggested Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine wanted documents held under seal.

“I will not release the confidentiality of the grand jury proceedings unless requested to do so by the prosecutor,” the judge wrote, in part. “Please direct your request for information to the Attorney General's office.”

DeWine's office served as prosecutor during the Limberios grand jury after Sandusky County officials were removed from the investigation by Crawford, who cited apparent conflicts in how it was being conducted.

DeWine's investigation determined local officials allowed important evidence to be destroyed and they reached an erroneous conclusion how Jacob Limberios was killed. He said Limberios' death certificate should be changed from suicide to accidental, but Sandusky County coroner John Wukie refused.

When the Limberios investigation by the AG finished Nov. 20, DeWine said all public records related to it would be released. His office did not immediately respond to an email Friday inquiring about Crawford's suggestion DeWine asked for the judge's secret gag order blocking release of public documents.

Related by pattern

In another state investigation, DeWine is considering impaneling another grand jury in Sandusky County that could target the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office and the Fremont Police Department. If he does, it will be the third local grand jury in the county DeWine will have asked for since he took office in 2011.

Two previous grand jury investigations by DeWine — the sexploitation of a mentally ill female inmate in the jail in 2012 by jail guards and the Limberios death — resulted in no criminal indictments. A grand jury investigation after Bryan Jones was killed by deputies inside his home in July 2010 — prior to DeWine's election — also resulted no findings of criminal wrongdoing. 

But DeWine agreed in August to conduct a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Craig Burdine at the Sandusky County Jail in August 2007. Burdine's family contends a jail guard using a choke hold caused Craig Burdine's death, and jail officials and police covered up what occurred.

Neither the sheriff's office or the Fremont police conducted a criminal investigation after Burdine, who was handcuffed and shackled when he allegedly became combative with the officers, died.

DeWine's spokesman, Dan Tierney, told the Register previously there are no provisions in the Ohio Revised Code that address the possible conflicts that might exist when local officials are responsible to impanel a grand jury that targets local officials.

Tracy Overmyer is the sister of Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, whose employees likely could be targets. Her husband, sheriff's captain Michael Meggitt, works for her brother. As clerk of courts, she is responsible for getting the grand jury pool selected, according to Ohio Revised Code 2939.02.

The sheriff's office is tasked with locating and serving summonses to the prospective grand jurors selected by the county's jury of commissioners.

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