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To monitor, or not to monitor

Register • Jul 14, 2014 at 10:06 PM

The civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department punted.

After initially stating it was "monitoring" the grand jury hearing information from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's investigation of the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine, U.S. DOJ spokeswoman Dena Iverson referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the North District of Ohio, shut down any response to the inquiry.

"As a matter of practice and policy we only comment on cases that have been publicly filed. If we indict someone, we discuss that indictment within the context of what we've filed," Tobin told the Register. "We don't talk in hypotheticals and we don't discuss who we might have talked to or who we might not have talked to. The privacy and investigative considerations for this position is self-evident."

Both the Ohio Attorney General's office and the Justice Department appeared to scramble after the Register reported Iverson's response to a broad inquiry from the Register about complaints made by families against Sandusky County law enforcement officials. The Register sought comment from the civil rights division citing its expertise in matters involving the enforcement of civil rights legislation. 

DeWine's spokesman Dan Tierney said the "monitoring" statement from Iverson was routine, while Lisa Hackley, a DeWine spokewoman, said it was not a word the Justice Department would use, despite its use by Iverson. 

Tobin attempted to clear up the confusion.

"I sent you a statement clarifying the DOJ's use of the term 'monitoring' because it seemed there was some confusion about what our use of the term meant. Beyond that, we are not going to discuss anything regarding a case upon which nothing has been filed in U.S. District Court."

Tobin refused to say whether any of the families had recently contacted the U.S. Attorney's office. 

One family representative told the Register previously when he did contact the office he was referred to the local FBI office. Agents there declined to pursue the information that was provided to them, citing enormous respect they had for the Sandusky County officials involved. 

A commenter at the Register also suggested the 1999 death of Lee Naus was reviewed by a federal agency. Naus was crushed in the compactor of a garbage truck after it unloaded a dumpster. Police never determined, and it does not appear they sought to determine, how Naus ended up in the dumpster prior to being killed. 

Tobin declined to comment whether there was a previous investigation of Naus' death, and the Register has not been able to confirm a federal investigation occurred. 

Lee Naus: Too young to die

The Justice Department did investigate the circumstances of a 2004 jailhouse death in Lucas County that is similar to the 2007 death of Craig Burdine at the Sandusky County jail.

In that case, Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser, who determined Burdine's death was self-inflicted, was forced to change her ruling in that inmate's death from accidental to homicide after evidence covered up previously was brought forward by federal agents.

The Burdine family contends Sandusky County sheriff and Fremont police hid evidence after Craig Burdine died, and they fear DeWine is whitewashing the grand jury to avoid criminal indictments against public officials.

DeWine has refused to state his intentions for presenting the investigation to a grand jury, which is expected to return for a 13th day of testimony on Tuesday. 

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