Grand jury begins hearing evidence in death of Brown County inmate

Brown County Grand Jury to investigate death (VIDEO)

BROWN COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - 24-year-old Zachary Goldson had been an inmate at the Brown County jail in October 2013 for nearly two months. He was incarcerated on a weapons charge. Deputies brought him to the hospital in Georgetown October 5th after he swallowed pens, staples and a toothbrush.

As Goldson and the deputy escorting him were walking back to the police cruiser, the Brown County Sheriff's Office says Goldson attacked the deputy. A call came in saying the two were fighting outside the hospital. Within minutes, several other deputies arrive to help their colleague.

Dash cam video from on of the cruisers captures this exchange between the deputies and Goldson.

Deputy 1:

I've got to go in there and get my eye checked.

Deputy 2:

What'd he do?

Deputy 1:

Stabbed me with something.


I don't have anything to stab anybody with.

Deputy 3:

I'd like to break your f****** neck right now.

As they walk a handcuffed Zachary Goldson back to the cruiser, the dash cam captures a second exchange.


I didn't mean to!

Deputy 2:

(unintelligible) your head up for me…

Deputy 3:

Yeah, that motherf*****'s getting a welcome party when we get to the jail. How would you like that, motherf*****?

FOX 19 INVESTIGATES obtained the Brown County coroner's full report regarding Zachary Goldson including surveillance video, phone calls, autopsy and scene photos. The following information comes from that file.

INTERACTIVE: See the evidence

As seen in surveillance video from the sally port at the jail, when Goldson arrives at the jail deputies are waiting. Four of them carry the inmate inside.

Surveillance footage from what happens next cannot be obtained. The Brown County Sheriff's Office says the video was automatically recorded over before the coroner requested it.

According to the coroner's report, 15 minutes later one of those deputies reports Goldson is hanging in his cell.

15 minutes after that another deputy who helped carry Goldson inside (already back on patrol) calls dispatch.

Dispatcher: Brown County communications.

Deputy: Please tell me he tried to hang himself. Yeah. I figured as much.

Disptacher: Yeah.

Deputy: I figured as much. Hopefully he got it done but I doubt it.

"The last hour of his life, that is how he was talked to. I don't know what was going through his mind at the time. I'm sure he was scared to death. I know he wasn't perfect. I know what he did was wrong but I don't think he deserved that. I don't think anybody does," said Christy Dennis, Zachary Goldson's mother.

Dennis says deputies told her moments after they returned to the jail, her 24-year-old son wrapped a sheet around his own neck and hanged himself from a jail cell sprinkler.

But Judith Varnau, the Brown County Coroner isn't so sure.

An autopsy was conducted by the Montgomery County Coroner's Office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations was brought in at the time of the death. After receiving the autopsy results and various other pieces of evidence, the Brown County Coroner ruled the death a homicide by strangulation.

According to the coroner's report, Goldson was 6'2 but the top of the cell where the sprinkler head was located was 9'6. Even with the help of the bunk, the sink or the toilet, Goldson would not have had been able to reach it.

Also in the report, the coroner argues the sprinkler heads are only built to hold 40 lbs before breaking or bending. Goldson weighed 154 lbs.

Within a month of Goldson's death, the sprinkler heads were replaced in each of the cells so the original sprinkler head cannot be examined according to the coroner.

In the autopsy photos, Goldson is handcuffed behind his back. Deputies said when they cut Goldson down from the sprinkler head, they handcuffed him as a safety precaution so he would not fight back if he revived.

The coroner argues anyone with CPR certification would have cleared Goldson's airway by cutting the sheet off his neck. The sheet was still around his neck when he was found. Furthermore, the coroner says it would be impossible for CPR to be properly conducted with Goldson's hands tied behind his back.

In the autopsy photos, Goldson has several ½ inch cuts around his neck according to the coroner. Those marks do not match up with the 1 ½ inch width of the sheet around his neck. According to her report, the coroner believes a nylon strap used to restrain inmates could have been used to strangle Goldson.

We've spent weeks trying to contact the Brown County Sheriff's Office for their response to the coroner's findings but have not received a response.

However, FOX 19 INVESTIGATES spoke with Chief Deputy John Schadel with the sheriff's office one year ago about the case. Schadel told us his deputies are innocent, saying if Goldson had been attacked, there would have been more physical evidence.

"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. (laughs) you know, I'm going to be skinned-up, bruised, and marked," said Schadel.

So what is the truth? Frankly it's hard to find in Brown County. The coroner and the sheriff's department have been at odds for months. A federal lawsuit was filed against the coroner earlier this year in an attempt to remove her from office.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations has been investigating the case for more than a year. Sources tell FOX19 that the case is headed to the grand jury for a second time Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. The state tells us in any case, the grand jury will meet as many times as it takes for the prosecutor to go through all the witnesses.

It is the grand jury's duty to determine probable cause for an indictment - not guilt or innocence, according to the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

However, the state is prohibited by law from disclosing the time or location of grand jury meetings and the media is not permitted to attend. We're told it could be weeks or months before we learn what the grand jury decides.

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