Day 11: Baden arrives

Dept. of Justice clarifies statement on "monitoring" DeWine's investigation
Melissa Topey
Jul 9, 2014

 

4:15 p.m. — Dr. Michael Baden has left the stand after close to three hours of testimony. Afterwards Baden said jurors were attentitive and asked some very good questions.

3:30 p.m. — Dr. Michael Baden has been testifying for about two hours. Investigators from the AG's office didn't contact Baden, who determined Burdine's death was a homicide, after they started their investigation in August. Baden wasn't contacted until early May after the Register reported there had been no contact.

1:34 p.m. — Jury members are back and Dr. Michael Baden has taken the stand.

12:54 p.m. — Dr. Michael Baden just arrived at the courthouse. Baden, a forensic pathologist, determined upon review of material that Burdine died as a result of asphyxiation, noting the crushed left hyoid cartilidge the man suffered. This was in direct contradiction to Lucas County Coroner Dr. Cynthia Beisser who determined Burdine died as a result of excited delirium

12:46 p.m. — Jury members broke for a lunch break.

10:50 a.m. — A gentleman in a dark blue suit arrived and was quickly taken into the courtroom to testify before the grand jury.

Update 10:36 a.m. — Jury members are taking a break. There has been no witnesses called since Bliss.

Update: 9:33 a.m. — Bliss is off the stand. He testified about attending the autopsy of Burdine.

Update 9:15 a.m. — Fremont Police Officer Detective Dean Bliss has been called to the stand. Bliss was not at the scene when Burdine died.

Update 8:44 a.m. — Jury members have started to arrive at the Sandusky County Common Pleas courthouse. Ohio Attorney General prosecutor Matt Donahue just arrived. Proceedings are to begin at 9:00 a.m.

Original story below

topey@sanduskyregister.com

FREMONT

Grand jury proceedings resume today in the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice clarified a statement made last month about its interest in the Burdine case. 

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office has been presenting information to the grand jury, on and off, since May 6, with hearings generally just once a week.

Burdine died in 2007 while in the custody of law enforcement at the Sandusky County jail.

DeWine's office began investigating almost 11 months ago, although it is not clear whether his investigators interviewed any eyewitnesses who were at the jail the night Burdine died. The Register has confirmed that some key witnesses were never interviewed prior to the start of grand jury hearings. 

DeWine's lead prosecutor, Matt Donahue, also has called few, if any, of the Fremont police officers, jail guards, supervisors or EMT's who were at the jail on Aug. 11, 2007, when he died, to testify in front of the grand jury. It's not clear whether Donahue ever intends to call any witnesses with first-hand knowledge of what occurred. 

The Burdine family has expressed fears DeWine is whitewashing evidence being presented to the grand jury. 

The Register sought comments from legal experts, civil rights attorneys and the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division regarding numerous irregularities that occurred immediately after Burdine died, including the failure by local officials to conduct a criminal investigation of his death or a deadly force review.

Burdine was severely injured when he was taken to the jail and he was Tasered repeatedly before he died just minutes after being dragged inside from police cruiser parked in the jail's sallyport. 

The inquiry included other complaints from other families regarding the alleged treatment they received from local law enforcement officials detailed in news articles published by the Register. 

Dena Iverson, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, responded to the inquiry June 26.

“We are monitoring the state's investigation but cannot comment further,” Iverson stated.

Four days later, after the Register reported the interest, the Department of Justice provided a more detailed reply.

“The Department of Justice often allows state and local officials to review matters such as this first, without federal involvement," Michael Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Ohio told the Register in an email. "During that phase of the matter, the term ‘monitoring’ is used to describe the status of the file at the Justice Department. This is a standard term and in no way implies any lack of confidence in the local investigation.”

Tobin would not comment on whether the Department of Justice would change the status of the file at some point in the future to one with a more active involvement, or review, by the federal agency.

Comments

Babo

I view the statement of Michael Tobin, a former reporter for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, concerning a statement made by the spokeswoman for the USDOJ in DC, as an attempt by the local US Attorney's office for ND Ohio to deflect attention and dissuade citizens from pursuing their right to complain directly to the USDOJ Civil Rights section in DC about state and local officials when dissatisfied about the lack of redress in the State.

The USDOJ's civil rights section in DC prosecuted the Benton jail death case against Lucas County officials after the AG's office and the US Attorney's office for ND Ohio failed to respond to citizens' concerns. This failure to properly investigate the Benton case included a defective autopsy conducted by the same deputy coroner as in the Burdine case and is possibly due to the fact that the local Feds like the AG's office have very close ties to state and local officials. Therefore they are extremely reluctant to investigate and prosecute area LEO's and other officials.

Accordingly, it is difficult to obtain an independent investigation of state and local officials especially law enforcement in the Northern District of Ohio. However, scrupulously documenting the perceived defects in the state investigation will help support the complaint to USDOJ's Civil Rights section for a federal civil rights investigation.

Perhaps the SR should consider asking what the USDOJ's DC spokeswoman means by the term "monitoring" rather than the local mouthpiece for the US Attorney's office that has stood down for many years on complaints of small county public corruption and criminal civil rights cases.

sash

You do realize Mr. Tobin is a spokesman for the DOJ as a Public Affairs Specialist? His boss is the DOJ, specifically the Office of Public Affairs. There isn't any statement or press release made that doesn't come under the purview of Washington. You speak as if the U.S. Attorney's Office is somehow separate from the DOJ when it is an arm of the DOJ. The statement is made to keep people from complaining directly? Do you know what happens when you make a direct complaint? You are directed to contact your local FBI office! They work together with the U.S. Attorney's Office under the supervision and assistance of Washington.

Where do you get that the U.S. Attorney's Office failed in any way in the Benton death? Who do you think brought the charges? The allegations of a sleeper hold/choke hold were brought up in a disciplinary hearing years after his death for another incident. Outside investigators(Toledo) were brought in to investigate the allegations and the results given to the Lucas County Prosecutor. Because of possible conflict of interest and civil rights violations, the Lucas County Prosecutor turned the investigation over to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The U.S. Attorney's office took over the case and FBI Special Agent Brian Russ of the Cleveland office was the lead investigator. The law is complex whether you are talking civil, constitutional or criminal, leading to lawyers who will specialize in certain areas. The DOJ will send in attorney's who specialize in certain areas to assist in prosecutions as needed. It is not about failure, distrust or lack of investigation. The attorneys for the civil rights and special litigation go where needed, as needed. The Benton case was tried by three prosecutors, Asst. U.S. Attorney Bamberger(ND Ohio), a Special Litigation attorney and a Criminal Division Civil Rights Attorney. They worked together to prosecute the case because they all work for the DOJ.

The "botched" autopsy was changed to homicide after the coroner was notified that a sleeper/choke hold had been used. There was no physical evidence in the autopsy to show a choke hold had been used. The jury completely rejected the government's theory that the choke hold was the cause of death and acquitted Sgt. Gray of causing Benton's death. Gray was convicted of falsifying a report and violating Benton's civil rights by not reporting that Benton was unconscious when he left him and failing to seek medical help.

Ralph J.

"You are directed to contact your local FBI office! They work together with the U.S. Attorney's Office under the supervision and assistance of Washington." You mean like those crook FBI agents who looked the other way when the corruption in Cuyahoga County was going on? How about the former FBI boss from the Toledo office? His fellow FBI agents wanted the judge to go easy on Spicocchi, telling the judge what a swell guy Spicocchi is.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp...

sash

Really not sure what your point is Ralph. Everyone's crooked, so why bother? I was addressing his statement on misdirection and how locals had "failed" in the Benton case.

Babo

Michael Tobin is employed by the US Attorney's office of ND Ohio as that office's public spokesman. The US Attorney's Office is a division of the USDOJ. The original statement came from a spokeswoman for the USDOJ's Criminal Divisions' Civil Rights Section in DC and people can and do complain directly to that section when local officers such as the FBI and the USA Office are not helpful.

2) The Civil Rights Section has its own investigators and prosecutors and can and does bring cases outside of a local USA office. In fact the Benton case was led by prosecutors from Washington DC and yes they used a local AUSA to assist but the case arose out of Washington.
You have selective recall as the Lucas County prosecutor's office fought Benton's family for years on the case and only turned the case over AFTER DOJ Civil Rights section was involved.

3) The autopsy was changed AFTER USDOJ experts reviewed the case including another pathologist's review and Lucas County was fine with it until that point.

sash

If you are referring to Dena Iverson, she is a Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of Public Affairs. They handle all press releases and media information for the Department of Justice. One is a national PR hack and the other is a regional PR hack. Whatever his physical location, Mr. Tobin works for the DOJ in Public Affairs and anything he says or releases to the press will be under the purview of the DOJ Division of Public Affairs.

Selective recall? I have pretty good recall, but I generally rely on court records, Grand Jury proceedings and press coverage. Where do you get the idea that his family "fought" the prosecutor's office for years or that the case arose out of Washington? Two days before the incident at the jail, Benton was in St. Vincent Mercy Hospital on life support from violent seizures and an apparent heart attack. Neither the family or anyone else questioned his death in view of his medical problems. He died May 30, 2004 and the allegations of a choke hold arose in March 2008 when Tina Hill was informed of her pending termination. Her allegations prompted an investigation within the department by the Internal Affairs Detective and an external investigation through the Prosecutor's Office. In less than a month, County Prosecutor Julie Bates had determined there were probable civil rights violations and a continuing investigation by her office would be a conflict of interest and forwarded the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The U.S. Attorney's took the case and brought the FBI in to investigate the allegations. "Agent Russ testified that he first learned of a possible civil rights violation when a letter was forwarded to him by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Toledo. The letter, which was authored by Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates, forwarded an investigation conducted within the Sheriff's Department, which Mrs. Bates believed would have been a conflict of interest for her office..."
The Civil Rights section would have been invaluable in their advice and expertise in prosecuting the case, but the investigation was triggered and handled locally through Lucas County, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the local FBI. The Coroner's Office stated in early 2009 that they would revisit their opinion when the FBI had concluded it's investigation and forwarded their findings to them. They reviewed the findings and changed the cause of death. Were they supposed to change it based on accusations alone?

The family of Carlton Benton filed suit in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in December 2008, after the allegations came out and they were notified of the investigation. The case was transferred to U.S. District Court and a stay ordered pending the criminal case. The stay was lifted in October 2012 after the trial, allowing the civil suit to proceed.

Babo

Newspaper reports at the time contradict your version of events and court records do not tell the whole story as they are very limited by rules of evidence.

Given your access and the passion with which you defend federal officers, you likely work in some federal job.

Why not bring the same amount of passion to seeing justice done in the Joe Yost case? That's a potential federal RICO case involving Yost and some public officials who harmed a lot of people, undermined the integrity of the justice system, and stole a bunch of money while evading income taxes.

sash

A refusal to jump on the conspiracy bandwagon doesn't make me a Fed. Sorry, but I've never held a government job in my life. I will admit to a cousin who was a federal prosecutor for about 20 years, but I've probably seen him a total of three times in the last 20 years at family funerals. I'm not in love with LE by any stretch, but I loathe the broad brush the haters and conspiracists use on any "officials" that comes to their attention. I can't stand DeWine, but I find myself defending his office because people would rather scream conspiracy and cover-up than make any effort to understand the law. The SR rips the AG's office for not getting an indictment for the jail guards and the mentally ill woman, but no one has responded when I ask what they could be charged with. Maybe you could find an appropriate charge since you like poking around the ORC, but I couldn't find any statute that would apply. Morally repugnant and illegal aren't the same thing.
I followed the coverage for Benton in the Toledo Blade, but if you had different information or I missed a story, please direct me to the coverage. Court records may not always tell the whole story, but I will trust the rules of evidence over rumor and supposition any day of the week.