BROWN COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - Emotions are running high in Brown County following last week's bombshell from the coroner calling inmate Zachary Goldson's death a homicide. The sheriff's office, which runs the county jail, insists Goldson hanged himself.
Chief Deputy John Schadle tells FOX19 that neither his officers nor Goldson had wounds suggesting a fight before his death.
"I don't know about you, but if somebody's coming after me trying to do me harm --- even if I'm an inmate in jail and I realize they're about to put something around my neck --- when you find my body hanging, if you do, you're going to know I was in one hell of a fight," Schadle said.
However, Dr. Judith Varnau believes that Goldson may have been handcuffed when he died, according to the coroner's typed notes. That suggests his ability to fight back may have been limited, especially if he were "hog-tied," as she suggests may have happened, too.
Some have also questioned whether it's really Goldson in the jailhouse video, released by the sheriff's office to investigators and obtained by FOX19, because it's hard to see his numerous tattoos.
"Well, it's Zach, according to BCI and according to our records," Schadle said today.
BCI is the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, a division of the attorney general's office, which is investigating the case.
"And he was standing backwards," Schadle added, suggesting the tattoos were hidden from the camera's viewpoint.
FOX19 has also reached Zach Goldson's stepdad, Tim Dennis, who's behind bars in Clermont County. He's been locked-up since three weeks after Goldson's death. He was arrested in Brown County for domestic violence against his wife, who is Goldson's mother. He tells FOX19 he had reached an agreement with the prosecutor and judge in the case to get out of jail in 90 days if he got treatment.
However, soon after the coroner's ruling in his stepson's case last week, Dennis said the Brown County sheriff ordered him moved to Clermont County's jail.
"They were afraid that I was either going to get hurt or they said that they were afraid somebody was going to say something to me and that it would drive me to do something to myself," Dennis said. "And I informed them that I was fine. I would never do that."
Dennis described his relationship with his stepson as a close one and doesn't believe Goldson would've committed suicide.
"I absolutely believe that Zach did not take his life," Dennis told us from jail. "I also believe very, very strongly --- as well as his mother --- that he would not do that. He has a son. He has a family. Like I said, he had had some trouble in the past. But he was doing very, very well for himself."
However, Christy Dennis tells FOX19 her son wrote to her from jail saying he likely faced five years in prison on a weapons charge.
In addition, coroner's documents reviewed by FOX19 show that Goldson had swallowed two pens, staples, and a toothbrush, which is why a deputy was escorting him from the hospital and back to jail the night he died. Goldson tried to grab the officer's gun and hit him in under the eye with a loose handcuff, according to Chief Deputy Schadle. That's what led other officers to descend upon the hospital.
It's in the minutes after that when we see a man, purportedly Goldson, being hustled back into the jail.
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.
Also, under Ohio law, it may have been illegal for the Brown County Sheriff's Office to allow the original video to be taped-over, she added.