Feds 'monitoring' jailhouse death probe

DeWine's office dismisses statement from U.S. Justice Department as 'routine'
Jun 28, 2014


The U.S. Justice Department is "monitoring" Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's investigation into the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine in Sandusky County, according to an email from a Justice Department spokeswoman. 

The Register sought review by experts of complaints and lawsuits filed by multiple families who've contended Sandusky County law enforcement officials mishandled criminal investigations involving their family members, including Burdine's family.

DeWine's office, the Justice Department's civil rights division, civil rights attorneys and other legal experts were contacted by the Register and asked to review information provided by the families and included in news articles published by the Register over the last several years.   

DeWine's office replied to the inquiry that it did not have jurisdictional authority over most of the issues the families raised.

DeWine also insisted his investigation into Burdine's death at the Sandusky County Jail, which is the only criminal investigation ever conducted after Burdine died in 2007, has been thorough.

DeWine's lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue, started grand jury hearings May 6, and he is scheduled to return for another jury session Tuesday.

Some witnesses were not contacted, however, during DeWine's seven-month investigation prior to the decision to go with a grand jury. The Burdine family has told the Register they fear DeWine and Donahue are whitewashing the evidence being presented to grand jurors because DeWine does not want the grand jury to return criminal indictments against local officials. 

Donahue has called few, if any eyewitnesses who were at the jail the night Craig Burdine died to testify, including the Fremont police officers who arrested Burdine, and the jail guards and supervisors, EMTs and others with him after he was taken inside the jail. 

Burdine was still handcuffed and shackled when a jail guard repeatedly employed a Taser to his body. He died just minutes after being dragged into the jail from a police cruiser. Burdine appears to be just semi-conscious or already unconscious In all the surveillance video made available from police cruisers and the jail.

Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser determined Craig Burdine's death was self-inflicted as a result of drug and alcohol intoxication and a condition known as excited delirium. 

Famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden reviewed the medical reports and determined Burdine died due to injuries to his neck and a compressed airway during the struggle with guards and police officers just before he died. 

Baden also said the blood and alcohol levels in Burdine's system were far too low to cause intoxification or excited delirium. 

Donahue has not called Beisser or Baden to testify. 

The U.S. Justice Department did not initially provide a response to the Register's request for comment, but on Thursday did reply in an email. 

"We are monitoring the state’s investigation but cannot comment further," a spokeswoman for the Justice Department wrote the Register. 

It's not the first time the Justice Department has looked at a local jailhouse death in which Beisser performed the autopsy. A previous federal investigation forced her to change her ruling in a killing at the Lucas County Jail. 

Beisser also found no wrongdoing in that case but Justice Department investigators determined evidence and witness statements related to the death of Carlton Benton were overlooked.

Benton, a 25-year-old Toledo man, died at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in June 2004 after he was strangled by a deputy’s sleeper hold while at the Lucas County jail, the Justice Department investigation determined.

Beisser ruled Benton died of a seizure disorder associated with the use of an antidepressant drug.

Justice Department investigators Interviewed four witnesses who came forward and later testified they saw a jail guard put a choke hold on Benton and then saw Benton’s body go limp. Their statements weren’t included in the official reports provided by the sheriff’s office for Beisser back in 2004. Beisser said her previous ruling was “nebulous” without that information.

That federal investigation determined the Lucas County sheriff and corrections officers gave false information about what happened to Benton.

In 2010 — six years after she ruled Benton died of natural causes — Beisser was forced to correct the death certificate to read “homicide.” 

DeWine declined comment about the Justice Department's interest in the Burdine investigation. His spokesman, Dan Tierney, said the office did not previously know about it. 

"Our office contacted federal authorities with jurisdiction over Sandusky County ... and no one was aware of any open investigation or active monitoring of the Burdine case," Tierney wrote in an email to the Register late Friday.

The statement from the Justice Department spokeswoman looked similar to a "very routine 'form letter' response to a public inquiry," Tienry said. 

"It does not seem to indicate that the Burdine case is under what most people consider 'federal monitoring,' which involves the appointment of a federal monitor or the establishment of a consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and a government agency."

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Click here to read an op-ed piece from Mike DeWine



Oh boy!


Anyone know when he became "still handcuffed and shackled" when he was tasered? I know I read before that he'd been uncuffed to be showered, then tasered when they tried to recuff him.

Matt Westerhold

The information you're referring to is not from a criminal investigation, sash, but from the same previous testimony in which Burdine was described as being "passive resistant." That seems contradictory to the descriptions used in the written statements he was being "combative." All the available video of what occurred shows Burdine to be barely conscious or already unconscious, so the information you're relying upon suggesting he was combative or that he was unshackled would not appear credible. There has never been a criminal investigation concluded with its finding made public in nearly seven years. That seems to be more of a concern for the family than it is for you.


Do you gotta bite the commenter's head off? Besides, this article doesn't seem too credible either, considering your neighboring newspaper just said there isn't any "monitoring" going on.


I can only go by what I read in the court decision and Dr. Baden's testimony. I simply like to know when I'm reading a known fact or an allegation, an opinion piece or a news article. When is there a criminal investigation? You harp on this continually, but is a criminal investigation normal when a death is natural or accidental? Or are reports written and filed away? How do other departments handle it? Is this accepted practice that Sandusky County followed or unusual?

The family. Really? Last time I called you out for misrepresenting Dr. Baden's testimony, you had Jess Burdine respond to my post. I guess if snark doesn't silence a critic, you'll try to shame them into silence. Sorry, but I'll never be ashamed of using my brain for critical thinking and questioning everything.

Matt Westerhold

No shaming intended Sash, and sorry if you were offended. Yes, a criminal investigation would be normal and required when a person dies suddenly under questionable circumstances in a jail after suffering massive injuries. That's why an autopsy was done, although it was not authenticated by evidence gathered from a criminal investigation. A deadly force review also would be required since Burdine's death involved the use of a Taser. The family was assured immediately after Craig Burdine died that a criminal investigation would be conducted, but one never was. That's one of the questions the family hoped would be resolved by DeWine: Why wasn't there a criminal investigation until six years later? It's a fair and reasonable question, and one that deserves an answer. How long should the family be forced to wait for a response to that, and to the myriad questions and serious concerns raised concerning the manner, cause and circumstances surrounding Craig Burdine's death at the Sandusky County Jail on Aug. 11, 2007? Why hasn't the prosecutor called eyewitnesses in seven weeks of grand jury hearings? Why weren't witnesses contacted during the seven months DeWine spent investigating prior to bringing it in front of a grand jury? The family's concerns would appear to be well-founded. 


I would think some kind of investigation is the norm for any death connected to police custody, but I've never found a statute or written guidelines from the Justice Department or elsewhere requiring it. Could you direct me to the source. I'm really not sure what you mean by an investigation authenticating an autopsy. An autopsy would be an independent finding based on the pathology alone when able or supported by outside evidence in an exclusionary finding. Since Dr. Baden didn't contradict the finding of cardiac arrest as the cause of death, the difference comes down to what they believe triggered the cardiac arrest. I find Dr. Baden's arguments less than compelling and you find them completely believable, but we're irrelevant. When you have a dispute between two pathologists, the only way to get an unbiased opinion is to discard both of their findings and bring in others to interpret the evidence.

We've gotten sidetracked from my original comment and argument. You stated that my sources of information were less than credible. What credible source do you have to support your contention that he was cuffed and shackled when he was tasered? Is it because you believe everyone lied and the truth would be the opposite? My problem isn't with the specifics of the case or your personal beliefs, but with how you are reporting the story. Filtering the information, drawing conclusions and reporting that as established fact in a news story is a disservice to your readers. Your opinion and theories are appropriate, and needed, in editorial and opinion pieces to prod public awareness, but a news story should be as objective as possible. You believe he was cuffed when tasered? Report then that LE "alleges" he was tasered when they were trying to cuff him. You then raise the question in the readers' minds, while respecting them enough to draw their own conclusions. We can read, weigh the evidence, the conjecture and supposition and draw our own conclusions without being spoon-fed your "truth." We're not stupid.

Florence Nightingale

Spot on, Sash - well said.


So is it FEW or NO witnesses have been called that were present at the jail that night? You say "few, if any" that sounds like some AND none in the same sentence. Can you clarify that??? If you are saying some have been called why don't you just say few. If none have been called, just say none! It can't be both!! Or is this a way of making it sound like none?


The News Messenger has an article that says they Feds are NOT monitoring this case. So who is telling the truth?

Seen it All

The last paragraph of this article states the same thing, even though the ALERT headline says the opposite. I am as confused as the next guy!


Oh yeah, now I see it. I didn't read that far down. After awhile I get off a dead horse. It is rather confusing.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks ladydye_5. The News-Messenger has not covered this story or sent a reporter to the courthouse for the grand jury hearings. It is serving as an official "mouthpiece," of sorts, for the attorney general's office. News articles in the News-Messenger often are not based on actual reporting. They sometimes are based on limited information or misinformation provided by AG staffers, or other public officials, providing nothing more than the "official spin" to a news event. In this instance, attorney general spokeswoman Lisa Hackley appears to have provided misleading and inaccurate information to the News-Messenger reporter. There is no actual reporting in the article, other than the repeating of misinformation provided by Hackley in response to information reported in the Register.


What does being at the courthouse have to do with reporting an interview with another person? Your word is no more or less credible than the word of any of the management at the News-Messenger.


Agreed. It's almost the same thing as Dr. Badens conclusion as to the cause of death. He wasn't there, did not do the autopsy, nor did he talk with anyone involved. He simply interpreted what he read and saw in photographs to come to his conclusion. Which by the way was deemed beyond his scope of expertise, if I understand it correctly.

Florence Nightingale

So the NM reported what spokesperson Hackley told them. At the end of this article the SR reported what spokesman Tierney told them. What's the difference? The difference is that the SR puts opinions into news stories instead of leaving them for editorials. If the paper were unbiased, you should be able to read a story and not be able to tell which "side" the writer believes, if any. That is hardly the case in any article written about anything to do with Sandusky County LE or the AG's office.


"Our office contacted federal authorities with jurisdiction over Sandusky County ... and no one was aware of any open investigation or active monitoring of the Burdine case". That states the federal authorities are not monitoring the case. Are the FEDS lying? That quote was taken from YOUR article. Not the News-Messenger.
Also looks like there are 2 different spokespeople being quoted, maybe that has something to do with the discrepancies.


The article opens with a statement that the SR received an email from a USDOJ spokesperson that stated the USDOJ was monitoring the actions in Sandusky County. Seems to me the solution is to post the email.

Local federal authorities with jurisdiction over Sandusky County will not necessarily be privy to what the USDOJ Civil Rights or Public Integrity sections in DC are "monitoring" because the local Feds also have relationships with state law enforcement.

If one reviews the Benton jail death case in Lucas County, it was USDOJ from DC that prosecuted the cases against Jail officers and forced the change in the autopsy, not the local feds.

State officials denying the feds from DC are monitoring them is standard procedure and they sometimes try to call in markers with local feds to interfere with any USDOJ monitoring. It's a common tactic used by politician/lawyers such as DeWine to avoid inquiry: Delay, Deny and if all else fails Lie.

Percy Loveschnutt

"Seems to me the solution is to post the email."

Oh, Babo, you dreamer. You really think the SR will publish a copy of their request and the DoJ's reply? Not in a hundred years. After all, that would be factual, would allow us to evaluate the validity and context, and would make the SR's interpretation unnecessary.

Not gonna happen.

Matt Westerhold

The email inquiry and the response are now posted with this article and you can view that here. 


Thanks Matt!


Really? Now the federal government is corrupt? Give it a rest.


Hahahaha Julian, you don't believe for one minute that the federal government is corrupt? I think maybe you are the one who should give it a rest, because, you are the one who is, well, I will leave it at that so my comment isn't deleted for name calling!


Not the Federal government in general, only specific to this case. First, it was local law enforcement, then state government, now federal government. It's getting ridiculous


Babo, smartest comment I have seen on this thread yet! I agree!

Ralph J.



Just speculating but if the Federal Civil Rights division is "monitoring" or keeping an eye on the AG's handling of the Burdine case and allegations of cronyism; it stands to reason that the last people who would be informed of that would be the AG and his staff.


??They would keep it secret from the AG's office, but reveal it to a newspaper? I guess with government anything is possible.


The newspaper would be the complaining party to the USDoJ concerning the AG's office's perceived violations of constitutional rights, similar to the victim of a crime complaining to the local police force about a suspect. The police do not alert the suspect of a crime to the fact that he is being monitored.

The victim who complained to the police can publicize the fact that they complained and may desire to do so to compel action or investigation with a politically connected suspect; but usually it's not smart to publicize the fact that somebody is being monitored.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks Babo, but the Register made an inquiry to a public agency about an area of question that is its expertise. It did not file a complaint. 


Thanks for posting the email exchange and responding to my comment.

My post used the words complain or complaint in the First Amendment petition clause (right to petition or "complain" to the government for redress of grievances) sense in that the SR brought to the attention of an appropriate federal office the grievances of many citizens concerning Sandusky County law enforcement and alleged lack of proper review by the AG. So in that sense the SR and you were acting as a conduit for the complaints or grievances of others consistent with the press' First Amendment role as government watchdog.

Normally, any agency charged with reviewing misconduct doesn't tip off a party that it is monitoring them. However, it makes sense in this situation to publicize the exchange because of the politics involved in trying to obtain independent review of LE misconduct in the State of Ohio.

Further, the AG's office IMO is trying to mislead the public by mischaracterizing bringing the USDoJ's attention to many possible violations of federal law to a Civil Rights Consent Decree that only occurs after extensive investigation and negotiations between the USDoJ and a law enforcement agency alleged to have engaged in a "pattern and practice" of violating civil rights.

Obviously, the USDoJ appears interested, aware and is "monitoring" the allegations of violations of constitutional/civil rights in Sandusky County and the lack of redress by the AG and for that you are to be commended.


Maybe if this guy had acted civilized prior to going to jail, hed still be alive today. Too bad he didnt get half the help hes receiving since he has passed away when he was alive. Obviously he had serious issues. Hopefully the family gets the closure they need.

sandtown born a...

His prior actions in no way excuse the end result, or lack of investigation. Oh hold on wait for it I can almost hear Dewine excusing the lack of investigating as a oversight to be learned from so it don't happen again, BLAH BLAH BLAH that's what we have heard up to this point from the big AG .


I have no idea what happened here but the family deserves an answer. Protect and Serve also means protecting you from yourself. What exactly is "passive resistant"? That makes no sense to me! Who is lying here? THEM or your EYES?

Ralph J.

An Ohio coroner ruled the October hanging death of a man in police custody to be homicide by strangulation last week, contradicting claims made by local law enforcement.



Interesting story as it reflects the basic misunderstanding of the law by the Sheriff's office in Brown county and their wishful belief that BCI (the AG's police force) can overrule a coroner's death ruling of homicide. BCI has to approach this case as a homicide involving jail officers because the coroner has ruled it a homicide.
Frankly, it's very scary that Brown county believes that they can alter the outcome and for that reason alone, BCI should hand the case over to federal authorities.


I did a follow up on the story and the it turns out there was a petition drive to remove the coroner from office for misconduct in office related to two other death investigations and that the Sheriff's office appears involved in trying to get her removed. The coroner won the trial on her removal before a visiting judge.

Lost in all of this is the fact that the coroner's ruling of the inmate's death as a homicide rather than a suicide as the Sheriff desires still stands but nobody seems to really be investigating the inmate's death as a homicide by jail corrections officers.

Ralph J.

"Lost in all of this is the fact that the coroner's ruling of the inmate's death as a homicide rather than a suicide as the Sheriff desires still stands but nobody seems to really be investigating the inmate's death as a homicide by jail corrections officers." Like Sandusky County (R), Brown County is Republican as is the sheriff. There will not be an investigation. If there was, it would be another dog and pony show like in Sandusky County.


Ralph J.

FOX19 Investigates: Brown County inmate's "homicide"
What happened next is under investigation by BCI. Schadle says BCI investigators were able to get video from the jail's cameras showing more of what happened and that no one was near Goldson's cell before he died. The original video of this was later erased automatically by the computer that controls the video surveillance system, he said.
Coroner Varnau is criticizing the sheriff's office for not maintaining a copy of those videos until she could get a hold of them. Schadle says her request simply came too late. But Dr. Varnau in a statement to FOX19 said that's no excuse:
"Normally in any potential homicide investigation video recorders would be immediately quarantined by law enforcement personnel, including the Sheriff's Office in this case, so that it could not be accessed in any way immediately upon discovery of a death in the jail," she said.


Ralph J.

A records request made to the BCI by The News Democrat on Wednesday, Nov. 26 was denied.
“At this time any BCI records potentially responsive to your request are investigatory work product in a criminal law enforcement matter that has not concluded, and are therefore confidential law enforcement investigatory records,” reads the denial letter for the request from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
BCI investigators could not discuss the state of the case, when it may be closed, or when the public could expect any announcements on the case.


Ralph J.

Republican Sandusky County, Republican DeWine.

Ralph J.