Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued at least one subpoena for a witness to testify in front of a grand jury hearing evidence in the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine.
Jess Burdine, 80, Craig’s father, said he received the notice Friday.
Jess was ordered to testify Tuesday when the grand jury seated earlier this week reconvenes at the Sandusky County Courthouse, according to the subpoena.
DeWine has been investigating Craig Burdine’s death since August.
Jess said he called DeWine’s prosecutor on the case — Matt Donahue — after he received the subpoena.
“He told me I could tell the grand jurors anything I thought was important,” Jess said.
Donahue did not say what questions he might ask him, he said. DeWine and Donahue have refused to say whether they are seeking any criminal indictments from the grand jury, and they have refused to say whether they have interviewed anyone who was at the jail when Craig died.
The Burdine family fears DeWine’s office won’t present the grand jury all the evidence, which they say is overwhelming.
— LONG ROAD
In August, Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt asked DeWine to conduct an investigation.
That request came six years after Craig died at the county jail when Fremont police officers and county guards dragged him from a police cruiser and into the facility. Craig was already suffering massive injuries, including an open wound to his head, a large burn on his back and abrasions and contusions all over his body when police arrested him after a fight in a Fremont neighborhood.
Craig died just minutes after he was taken into the jail. Police allegedly pepper-sprayed him when they arrested him, and he was still handcuffed and shackled when an officer allegedly repeatedly applied a Taser shock to his body inside the jail. Another jail guard used a chokehold on him, according to Burdine’s family, which caused his death.
The Burdines hired Dr. Michael Baden, who reviewed the autopsy, witness statements, video and other reports and determined Craig was the victim of a homicide inside the jail. DeWine’s investigators never contacted Baden after agreeing to do a criminal investigation seven months ago.
It’s not clear if DeWine’s investigators ever interviewed any of the other witnesses, police officers and guards who were there when Craig died.
Jess said he fears DeWine intends to “whitewash” the evidence the same way Fremont police and the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office did after his son died.
He and his family fought for more than six years to get local officials to conduct a criminal investigation. Sheriff’s detective Sean O’Connell told Jess immediately after his son died that he would, but O’Connell never returned his phone calls or made any contact with him again after that initial meeting, Jess said.
O’Connell also previously told the Register he did a “thorough investigation,” but he never interviewed any of the police officers, guards or witnesses. Instead he relied on written statements they provided, all of which stated Craig was being combative with them when he was arrested and brought to the jail.
Surveillance video from the jail and from police cruisers, however, appear to show Craig was barely conscious when he was arrested. Not a single frame from the videos show Craig being combative.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office acknowledged local officials never conducted a real investigation, but it’s not clear if DeWine’s team contacted anyone involved or did anything that might constitute a legitimate criminal investigation.
Baden, who has been used in the past by the Attorney General’s office as an expert witness, told the Register in late April that DeWine’s investigators never contacted him about the Burdine case.
A New York medical examiner who has testified in numerous high-profile and celebrity cases in the past, Baden was used by DeWine as an expert witness for his investigation last year into the death of Jacob Limberios.
At that time, DeWine referred to Baden as a “highly skilled expert” who could not only review medical reports but could also carefully examine witness statements and other documentation and render an extremely precise analysis.
Baden already had done that for the Burdine family, but it appears DeWine is avoiding his findings in the current investigation.
Jess said one of DeWine’s investigators told him they found a different expert who was “even better than Baden.”
Sandusky County officials contend Craig’s death was self-inflicted, caused by excited delirium and drug and alcohol intoxication, a condition often used to explain sudden deaths of individuals in police custody but rarely used as a cause for deaths that do not involve police.
Baden said the alcohol and drug levels in Craig’s system were far too low to be cited in that manner as a contributing factor.
DeWine has refused to keep the family informed and would not tell them previously when the next grand jury hearing is scheduled. The Attorney General’s team was greeted by protesters outside the Sandusky County courthouse when the grand jury was convened for one day on May 6.
DeWine’s lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue, presented information to the jurors for a couple of hours, but he did not call any witnesses. He refused to say when the grand jury would reconvene, but Brock Kimmet, the court administrator, said he was told the next hearing will be Tuesday.
Jess said he fears Donahue intends to limit the evidence grand jurors hear in an effort to affirm the official story local officials told after his son died, and not return any criminal indictments.
— STRIKING OUT
If that happens, it will be the third grand jury presentation in Sandusky County by DeWine that results in no criminal indictments.
A 2012 investigation by DeWine into the sexual exploitation of a mentally ill inmate who was denied her medication determined there was no criminal wrongdoing. The woman was kept naked in an observational cell at the Sandusky County jail for hours and encouraged by guards to masturbate and perform other lewd acts.
The jail guards were fired after the Register first reported the incident, but were later paid $5,000 each not to appeal their terminations and agreeing not to make any disparaging remarks about their former boss, Sheriff Kyle Overmyer. The payoff agreements were arranged by the Sandusky County prosecutor’s office.
A grand jury also found no wrongdoing in 2013 in the sheriff’s botched investigation into the March 2012 death of Jacob Limberios. DeWine determined Jacob Limberios’ death was accidental and that sheriff’s deputies allowed evidence to be destroyed before he took over the probe.
Sandusky County coroner John Wukie refused to correct the death certificate, however, which cites the cause as an accidental suicide. Wukie, who never conducted any sort of investigation, is the only person who has suggested Jacob Limberios’ death was a suicide, and he has had difficulty explaining how a suicide can be accidental.
DeWine has refused to ask the judge to order Wukie to change the death certificate. A spokesman for DeWine said there was concern correcting the death certificate might result in a lawsuit.
Mike Limberios, Jacob’s father, said his family has never been interested in money and from the start only wanted the death certificate corrected. The family has spent more than $100,000 seeking a competent investigation and was forced to mortgage their home.
DeWine never finished the job he started, Mike Limberios said, and his family and other families that contend leaders in the Sandusky County law enforcement community are corrupt will support the Burdine family through the grand jury hearings.
He referred to DeWine’s grand jury hearings as a “dog and pony show,” and said his family supports Jess Burdine in his fight for justice.
“He’s a veteran. He’s a father. He deserves an honest, fair, open and transparent look into the death of his son,” Mike Limberios said. “I stand with Jess Burdine.”
The Limberios grand jury also was determined to have been improperly selected — in secret — in violation of state laws governing grand jury selection. DeWine asked visiting Judge Dale Crawford to affirm the grand jury despite the violations.
Crawford has maintained a secret gag order in the case and has not provided court filings and his rulings regarding the irregularities that occurred.
The Register has reported the difficulties numerous families have experienced with Sandusky County officials and has discussed those concerns with Attorney General DeWine in detail in late March, asking questions families have raised. DeWine said he would review the Ohio Revised Code to determine what the attorney general's office was authorized to consider after reviewing information from the families reported in news articles. DeWine has not followed up or offered further comment. Click on the links below to read more.