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Calling Dr. Baden?

Melissa Topey • May 16, 2014 at 7:30 AM

After a third day of grand jury hearings into the jailhouse death of Craig Burdine, one big question for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is will he call Dr. Michael Baden to testify.

DeWine’s lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue, won’t say. 

Donahue also has not said whether he is seeking criminal indictments against the officers or jail guards the Burdine family says caused Craig’s death and then conspired to cover up what Baden determined was a homicide inside the jail.

Local officials contend Craig Burdine died a sudden death caused by a condition known as excited delirium, which is often used to explain sudden deaths that occur with individuals in police custody but rarely — if ever — used as a cause in deaths that don’t involve police. 

Jess Burdine, 80, Craig Burdine’s father, testified Tuesday and Thursday and told the Register he asked grand jurors to insist on hearing from Baden and other experts who examined what happened Aug. 11, 2007, when Craig Burdine died in custody, handcuffed and shackled.

Watch the interview with the Burdines and other families

Jess Burdine said he asked them to insist on hearing from other witnesses and the officers, guards and other law enforcement and EMS responders on duty the night his 37-year-old son was killed.  

Baden testified in a 2010 deposition that Craig Burdine died after suffocating when the cartilage in his neck was fractured and his airway was compressed. 

Baden told the Register in late April he had not been contacted by Donahue or anyone with the investigation, but he was ready to testify that Craig Burdine was the victim of a homicide.

“I stand by by opinion,” he said.

Baden told the Register on Thursday he has since been contacted by the attorney general’s office. That call came after the Register reported there had been no contact previously during DeWine’s seven-month criminal investigation, which is the only criminal investigation ever done after Craig Burdine died. 

Local officials did not conduct a previous investigation, although the Burdine family was told differently. 

Baden declined to respond when asked whether he’d received a subpoena. When asked if he expected to be in Sandusky County again soon, Baden said he would know more in a week or two.

Jess Burdine has asked Donahue repeatedly to call Baden as a witness. A renowned forensic pathologist, Baden is a New York state medical examiner. 

He also asked the grand jury to subpoena Dr. Wayne Graves, who could talk extensively about Craig’s mental illness and the post traumatic stress from which he suffered, and Ken Kaiseris, an expert in the use of force, Jess Burdine said.

“I feel good about my testimony, you betcha I do,” Burdine said after walking out of Courtroom No. 3, where the grand jury is meeting. 

— Witness for indictment

Jess Burdine said he asked grand jurors to vote to indict fired jail guard Frank Kaiser, Fremont police officer Lester Daniels and Michael Dickey.  

He said he asked them to indict other law enforcement and EMS workers at the scene who he contends provided false information and for other infractions. 

Craig Burdine had massive injuries, including an open wound to his head, a large burn on his back, bruising, abrasions and contusions all over his body when he was arrested by the Fremont police. Burdine had been assaulted in a fight in a Fremont neighborhood.  

An ambulance call was cancelled and Burdine became combative, according to statements written by the officers. 

Surveillance video, however, shows Burdine to be barely conscious if not already unconscious when he’s still in the police cruiser. Not a single frame in the video shows him being combative. Kaiser suggested in his 2010 deposition that Craig Burdine was showing “passive restraint,” and that he thought he might have broken his arm subduing him. 

He was pepper sprayed by officers when he was arrested and still handcuffed, shackled and unresponsive when an officer applied a Taser shock to his body repeatedly after he was dragged inside the jail. He died just minutes after being taken inside. The Burdine family contends Kaiser put a chokehold on Craig that caused him to die.

Frank Kaiser is the son of a retired sheriff’s deputy, Bill Kaiser, who works for Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt as an investigator. 

Jess Burdine said he showed grand jury members photos of the alleged injuries officers received, which are difficult to discern examining the photos — and the autopsy photos that clearly show the brutal injuries his son suffered before he died. 

He also showed them discrepancies in testimony in the various depositions from 2010 — taken three years after Craig died — of the personnel at the jail that night. 

He said he told jurors video from the police cruisers and the jail surveillance showed Craig was unresponsive and mentioned to them how the video is damaged, with blanked out-screen images at times, and long gaps in the audio portions. 

Jess Burdine said he told jurors he hoped the inmates who previously gave testimony in depositions and before the grand jury had the courage to tell the truth. But he knows, he said, it can be “a tough thing to testify against law enforcement.”

— Mystery witness

The first witness to go in front of the grand jury after Burdine on Thursday could not be identified. Jess Burdine said when he first saw the man he thought it might be Frank Kaiser. The man testified for about 30 minutes before being dismissed. 

The man then went hurriedly to his red pickup to avoid answering questions from a reporter about his identity or his testimony after he left the courtroom. 

Jess Burdine said he wasn’t sure it was Kaiser.

There were plenty of others waiting to testify Thursday. Most were in and out of the courtroom in a few minutes, including Jacob Kirkbride, of Fremont.

All of the inmates who were in that block that morning were subpoenaed to testify, Kirkbride said. Most had been kept in their cells after the incident began.

Craig Burdine was alive when he was brought in, Kirkbride told the Register after his grand jury testimony. But quickly thereafter there was a commotion. He heard a Taser being fired at least twice. It’s been so many years since it happened, he said, he couldn’t remember exactly how many times he heard it fire.

He said he didn’t see anything but could hear the officers. 

Several members of law enforcement testified as well, including Fremont police Chief Tim Wiersma.

Wiersma, who was a captain on the force in 2007, met Jess Burdine at the Fremont Memorial Hospital to tell him his son was dead. Wiersma also went out to Sycamore Street to take photographs in the daylight where Burdine was arrested. It was still dark in the early morning in the photos when they were taken immediately after it happened. 

Jess Burdine said previously that neither Wiersma, nor then Fremont police detective Sean O’Connell ever contacted him again after that one-time meeting, or returned his telephone calls afterwards. 

Wiersma declined to discuss his testimony when approached by a reporter. 

Sandusky County EMS employee Chad Magrum also testified Thursday.

Outside the courthouse on Thursday about a dozen protestors, some wearing the Guy Fawkes white masks adopted by the Internet group Anonymous, carried signs and rallied. 

Supporters of the family have attended the grand jury hearings each day and are monitoring who is called to testify. 

The grand jury is expected to reconvene Tuesday. 

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