Autopsy findings cleared deputies

But questions still linger in death of inmate at the Sandusky County Jail
Jessica Cuffman
Aug 1, 2013

When Craig Burdine was arrested on Aug. 11, 2007, no one was surprised.

The 37-year-old had multiple run-ins with police prior to that, with a history of drug abuse and crime.

To this day, his family doesn’t claim his innocence.

But six years later, they continue to fight for justice in his death.

Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser ruled Craig’s death an accident caused by drug-induced excited delirium. In her autopsy report, Beisser took note of his injures — extensive external blunt trauma, internal bleeding, and fracturing of the cartilage in his neck — but she did not see them as causing or contributing to his death.

Beisser focused her findings on the levels of methamphetamine and alcohol in Craig’s system, and she stuck with this explanation in testimony during a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his parents, Jess and Mardella Burdine, of Oak Harbor.

Expert testimony by a former New York medical examiner, Michael Baden, was starkly different

Beisser should have focused on the fractured thyroid cartilage, according to Baden, which he said was proof that Craig suffered severe pressure to his neck the night he died.

Former Sandusky County jail guard Frank Kaiser readily admitted during court proceedings that he pinned Craig down in a jail shower room, after Fremont police delivered Craig to the jail following his arrest.

Frank Kaiser is the son of retired Sandusky County Deputy Bill Kaiser, who currently works as an investigator for county prosecutor Tom Stierwalt. Frank was fired last year by Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, after Frank was implicated in the sexual exploitation of a mentally ill inmate at the jail.

At 350 pounds, Frank Kaiser, according to court documents, placed his knee on Craig’s back when the inmate was face-down, his arms behind him and handcuffed as jail personnel tried to wash from his eyes the mace that Fremont police had used to subdue him minutes earlier.

Moments later, after he started to vomit and officers called for paramedics, Craig was dead.

The fractured thyroid cartilage and an unexplained bruise on the left side of his neck indicate he died of asphyxia, Baden said, a lack of oxygen. This was further substantiated by descriptions jail guards and police provided, noting Craig “turned blue” as he died. 

The level of methamphetamine in Craig’s system, Baden said, would have had to be five to 10 times higher than what was detected in his blood, according to court documents.

His blood-alcohol level, 0.10 percent, was also much too low to contribute to his death, Baden said.

*
Follow the links to read all four parts: 
Autopsy by design
Craig Burdine, sudden death and its causes
Gregory Montgomery, death by suicide despite objections
Deputy coroner's deadly details and difficult questions 

Click here for a photo gallery with more information about the people involved and impacted by the investigations into the killing of Jacob Limberios. 
*

Despite Baden’s testimony and other evidence the family presented, the Sixth Circuit federal court of appeals dismissed the Burdine family’s lawsuit earlier this year.

The Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office celebrated the ruling, declaring victory and vindication in a news release. In the release, Overmyer said the case “highlights the need for all young people to avoid the use of drugs. We hope that the ruling of the Sixth Circuit will enable his family to obtain closure and come to terms with their loss.” 

No surrender

Craig’s father, Jess Burdine, is far from waving the white flag.

He readily admits his son had problems. But police and jail guards are responsible for his death, he said, and they should be held accountable.

”I am hoping that we will be able to reinstate the case, go right back into the Sixth Circuit court,” he said.

And Beisser should correct the autopsy, Jess said.

It would not be the first time Beisser has been forced to change her findings in an autopsy report.

In 2010, six years after the death of a 25-year-old Toledo man, Carlton Benton, Beisser later changed her ruling on his cause of death from natural to homicide.

Her about-face came after an FBI investigation into Benton’s death led to the indictment of then-Sheriff James Telb and three of his deputies. They were accused of conspiring to cover up information that one of the deputies had actually used a sleeper hold on Benton while he was in the jail the day before he died.

The family of 19-year-old Jacob Limberios, a Castalia teen killed by a single bullet to the head in 2012, also seeks to have his cause of death changed from suicide. The accidental suicide ruling came from Sandusky County coroner John Wukie, although Beisser agreed with this determination when she performed an autopsy 14 months after Jacob’s death.

A few weeks ago, Jess Burdine delivered a packet of information to Stierwalt’s office, asking for a criminal probe and death investigation into the actions of Fremont police and Sandusky County deputies the night Craig died.

Jess said that when he and his attorney met with Stierwalt this past week, Stierwalt agreed to ask Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to investigate Craig’s death.

Stierwalt did not return multiple phone messages this week from the Register, which is seeking to confirm he is asking DeWine’s office to reexamine the case. >

Jess, however, said Stierwalt’s interest was piqued by certain evidence in the case, particularly in respect to a jail guard’s use of a Taser when he attempted to subdue Craig. The jail guard’s actions were documented in records Jess obtained from former Sandusky County Sheriff David Gangwer, before Gangwer died in 2008, about a year after Craig’s death.

Stierwalt met with Jess and his Toledo attorney, Wesley Miller, and discussed a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of pages prepared in the civil lawsuit.

”With that one expert who testified about the Taser, it just blew everything apart,” Jess said. “When he said he will turn it over to the state, I about fell right out of the chair.

 DeWine has also taken over the probe into Jacob’s death, a case in which Beisser also plays a prominent role. Beisser’s findings in the Jacob’s autopsy have been harshly criticized by yet another well-known pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Wukie had ruled Jacob’s death an accidental suicide, without ever visiting the crime scene. He had relied on information from deputies and on statements made by three witnesses who were at the scene when Jacob was killed.

Wecht later determined Jacob could not have shot himself, given the lack of stippling, or gunpowder residue, around the gunshot wound on his head.

Beisser conducted an autopsy on Jacob 14 months later, and she, too, said she did not find evidence of gunpowder burns. 

Even so, her report said her findings were “not inconsistent” with Wukie’s original ruling of suicide. 

In a critique of Beisser’s findings, Wecht criticized her logic, describing it as “remarkable and convenient rationale.”

 Arrest and death 

Craig Burdine, 37, was arrested Aug. 11, 2007, by Fremont police, who were called to a home where he was causing a disturbance. Craig either fell or was pushed into a fire pit at about 3 a.m., after people at the home told him he wasn’t wanted there, according to court documents.  

Witnesses described Craig as irrational and agitated.

Police used pepper spray to subdue him before handcuffing him and loading him into a police cruiser bound for the county jail.  

On arriving at the jail’s sally port, officers and deputies carried Craig, still handcuffed, into the jail shower room to rinse the pepper spray from his face. In court documents, the officers and jail guards said Craig continued to struggle in the shower room, prompting an officer to zap him with a Taser three times. <\z12f”serif”>One of the jail guards, Frank Kaiser, placed his knee into Craig’s back to hold him down until paramedics showed up. 

He was dead by the time he arrived at the hospital.

Comments

been-there-done-that

Only Questions are from the Register as Usual????Always a question when the results are not what the Register wants???Give it a rest!!!

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

Thanks been-there-done-that, but actually the questions were raised by the Burdine famiy and others, including Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist whose opinion differed greatly from the Lucas County deputy coroner's findings.

In the Wednesday installment of the series the questions were raised by the Limberios family, and others, including Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist whose opinion was starkly different from the deputy coroner's, and from a third pathologist who reviewed the findings of both autopsies.

Questions also have been raised by the Jones family with regard to the killing of their son by Sandusky County sheriff's deputies, who stood just feet away from Brian Jones, who was sleeping, and used a flash-bang grenade to awaken him before shooting him to death, blowing off his arm with the high-velocity ammunition they used.

Questions also were raised by the Benton family, and FBI agents, who secured an indictment against Lucas County public officials who the FBI agents said "conspired to cover up information" about the killing of Carlton Benton. Their questions led to the deputy coroner being ordered by a judge to change the findings of her autopsy from "died of natural causes" to "homicide," but it took six years for that to happen. 

It might be easier for you to say "Give it a rest" than it is for the Limberios, Burdine and Jones families to simply accept your advice and walk away from their questions, which they believe have never been answered by public officials.  

 

Stop It

Don't let these questions die, Matt. Keep on them. You can see for yourself how the ones who tried to hide the truth are falling apart under pressure.

gramafun

I have to agree with the family on this one and the SR reporting it. Why didn't the coroner question the fractured neck cartilage? It takes an enormous amount of pressure to do that, so why just rely on toxicology and not other signs of trauma to reach such a conclusion? I would think it would ALL be addressed and not just one thing. Sorry, but it sounds like someone is picking and chosing what to look at in this matter and not ALL the evidence in this matter. That isn't an objective autopsy by Lucas County at all. His neck was fractured (could he even breath?) It seems to me that would be the cause of death as well as the toxicology report. Someone dropped the ball on this one....badly.

Simple Enough II

I read the initial report, which was from Fremont PD, Mr. Burdine came to this man's home uninvited, (I think they didn't even know him), when he decided for some reason to throw the homeowner into the man's fire ring, he then at some point decided to run head first like a charging bull into the side of the man's home. I believe it was the concrete block portion, not the wood siding of the home he was charging into, wonder where a neck fracture could have developed from? I'm of the opinion that this guy was really out of control based upon conversations with folks there at the initial scene. And as fror poor Bryon Jones, well sounds like the family enabled him with allowing him to drink while out on bond etc (as he was living under their roof). He was also a convicted felon and not allowed to handle or have access to firearms, shame on the family for allowing him to have access to them aye?!

gramafun

Simple enough: speaking from a "medical" standpoint, you cannot fracture a larynx from headbutting a wall. Sorry, that only happens when someone chokes you severely or you fall on an object with great force (like from an extreme height) on your throat. So I doubt highly that he sustained such an injury by headbutting anything.

As for the remainder of it....what his parents did or did not do at the time is irrelevant to his death unless they choked him or forced drugs and alcohol down his throat. He is of consenting age isn't he? So they aren't the cause of his misbehavior.

Sorry, I like cops. I really do, but this is very strange to me. The initial reports of strange behavior don't fit with the injuries described by the coroner. But, since I am not a doctor or a coroner, I can't render my "verdict" in this case. If I were, however, it would have been "COD: Homicide MOD: Possible strangulation or obstruction of airway Secondary MOD: Drug ingestion.

LOL....that was fun.

registerer

Dr Baden and Dr Wecht are "HIRED GUNS" paid by the families. What do you think they are going to say or who do you think they are going to side with? Don't be stupid about it as they are there solely to support the person that is paying them.

Now, you a have person jacked up on drugs and most of the time the only way to restrain them is with force.

Here is an idea DON'T PUT YOURSELF IN THAT SITUATION. Sorry but the money grubbing won't bring the kid back nor rectify the situation HE caused!

Stop It

Sounds like you were there, registerer.

registerer

Nope. Tired of people suing others when they are more than 50% responsible for their situations. If the dude wasn't on drugs he wouldn't have been there.

Stop It

:)

Simple Enough II

Dead on! OOps, can I say that?!

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

Thanks Registerer. It doesn't seem like Baden or Wecht would "sell" their integrity or their professional opinions and reputations as easily as you suggest, and if they did, it's likely the price tag would be higher than what working-class families could afford to pay. Perhaps you have some expertise on this subject. Do you have any information that might support your contention? The questions both pathologists raised would seem to deserve plausible answers from the public officials who have been asked those questions, regardless of your contention.

registerer

Yet you infer that both the Sandusky County and Lucas County Coroners have compromised themselves and their jobs by providing inaccurate results. Who is to say they are wrong and the others are right?

sandtown born a...

Who's to say they are right and everyone else is wrong? If you don't question these findings and take the explanation of the powers to be what stops them from being even more idiotic in the findings they present

registerer

Who is to say they are wrong and the "hired guns" are right?

gramafun

Mr. Westerhold: AMEN...to say nothing of their licenses.

gramafun

@Registerer...."You are tired of people suing....for people who put themselves in that situation." Really? Did the parents have anything to do with what happened? NO. Did the Lucas Co coroner acknowlege the fractured larynx or other injuries on the body? NO. But the other doctors did. All the Lucas Co coroner had to say was about the Blood toxicology screening. Interesting that it is the ONE thing she points out. Do you have any idea or inkling as to why? Any guesses?

hilltop

The real question of the day is:

If Craig Burdine had been a Police Officer, and the "administrator of ju$tice" had been an accused criminal, would the coroner's outcome be the same?

Centauri

Nope, somebody would have been charged with murder.

skydog44870

I am in no way anti law enforcement but I’m curious as to why the local FBI did not open an investigation into the Jones, Burdine or David (shot and killed by police Bellevue Police) deaths. These individuals all died at the hands of police officers at what I would consider questionable circumstances. After all they wasted no time looking into the Zimmerman case. Could it be more politics in play .

gramafun

@skydog..families of these people should contact the same people that were contacted in the Zimmerman case.....but I doubt there are any out there who could stand up for these three as those who stood up for Martin......THEN you would see action.

Truth or Dare

No irons in the fire on any of these stories. In other words, I don't know any of the deceased or their family/friends personally, but then again I don't have to in order too have some kind of EMPATHY for them and far too many across this country that have/are experiencing the same situation! See, me and mine are a part of the community and it matters to me that justice is served rather than being circumvented by those responsible for helping in providing it! After all , these are the same govt. entities that will be handling and determining my cause of death, or that of a loved one!

Again, take an hour to view Frontline's Documentary "Post Mortum". It'll open your eyes to truth and fact that such lawsuits are well warranted!

We'll see just how fervent of an investigation our OAG's office conducts, won't we? With what's happened locally and in neighboring counties over the last decade easy, it's earned the spotlight!

registerer

And if the OAG finds everything in order then what?

deertracker

Some of you are far too eager to give LE a pass regardless of the circumstances just because they are LE. All LE officers are not good LE officers and we know LE protects their own. Meth does not cause cartilage in your neck to tear. Some of you always want to blame the victim until it is a relative that has been victimized. Also, stop blaming the SR for doing it's job. The SR did not manufacture these facts or quotes. What is so wrong with trying to find out what really happened?

sandtown born a...

I agree totally LE isn't always right just because they say so.

Centauri

"All LE officers are not good LE officers and we know LE protects their own."

Good comment.

Centauri

http://www.npr.org/templates/sto...
"But nearly all reported cases of excited delirium involve people who are fighting with police. And that's extremely problematic, says Eric Balaban of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I know of no reputable medical organization — certainly not the AMA [American Medical Association] or the APA [American Psychological Association] — that recognizes excited delirium as a medical or mental-health condition," Balaban says.

He's right. Excited delirium is not recognized by professional medical associations, and you won't find it listed in the chief psychiatric reference book.

Balaban charges that police officials are using the diagnosis "as a means of white-washing what may be excessive use of force and inappropriate use of control techniques by officers during an arrest."

http://www.portlandmercury.com/B...
"Excited delirium” is a controversial medical term often associated with deaths in police custody where a Taser has been deployed."

"In the Chasse autopsy, however, Gunson ruled out excited delirium as a cause of death, ruling instead that Chasse died of blunt force trauma to the chest, caused by another person or a fall. Gunson has since been quoted in depositions saying Chasse's 26 breaks to 16 ribs were most likely the result of kicks or a "dropped knee" by cops. Gunson found 48 separate abrasions or contusions on Chasse's body, including 16 possible blows to the head. Chasse would most likely have lived if he had been given proper medical care, Gunson said."

Earlier I mentioned a man whose death was ruled a suicide. The only problem was that the man's hands and feet were tied. Several web pages mentioned that he was also tied into a chair. Plus he was decapitated.

Centauri

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e...
"Excited delirium”? This video is worth watching, also pay attention to the autopsy reports.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U...
Justice for Kelly Thomas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j...
Murder Charges For Cops Over Tasing, Beating Man To Death

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/new...
"Ramos faces a potential sentence of 15 years to life if convicted of second-degree murder but only four years if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli and Wolfe face a maximum sentence of four years in prison, if found guilty."

Only 4 years if a cop murders a homeless man? Cicinelli is one ugly dude. These stories about the police murdering people can be found all over the nation. There are good cops and there are those who wear the badge that belong in prison. The other day I was reading about a Missouri 16 year old young boy by the name of Mace Hutchinson who fell 30 feet from a bridge and lay in the road with a broken back and other injuries. The police arrived and tazed the boy 19 times. http://www.wnd.com/2008/08/71096/

There many good police out there. There are also a lot of bad police out there who would murder you in a blink of an eye.

been-there-done-that

I dosnt matter what you are talking about in this world you can ALWAYS find someone "expert" who will dispute what someone else has said or done. Believe the Register and almost everyone of our Officials in this Country are corrupt,make things up,lie,or are just not competent to do their jobs. The families are obviously motivated by humanity not sure exactly what the Registers motivation is? Drama? Questions? Sell Papers?

Matt Westerhold's picture
Matt Westerhold

Thanks for the question, been-there-done-that. The Register's motivation is to inform the community. 

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