Brown County inmate Zachary Goldson's death ruled a homicide

WARNING: Some of the quotes in this report contain explicit language.

GEORGETOWN, Ohio -- Two months after the hanging death of a Brown County jail inmate, the Brown County Coroner's Office has ruled it a homicide.

Zachary Goldson, 24, was found hanging from a bed sheet in the Adult Detention Center on Oct. 5, nine days after his arrest on Sept. 26.

Brown County Coroner Judith Varnau determined Goldson's death was caused by strangulation.

At about 2:41 a.m. the day before his death, Goldson was taken to a hospital after swallowing a pen. He returned to his cell at 3:38 a.m.

Later that evening at 11:18, he began vomiting after swallowing another pen, as well as a toothbrush and some staples, according to jail documents.

Goldson was scheduled to have an endoscopy to remove the objects and was discharged to Deputy Travis Justice for transportation. But when the deputy unlocked his vehicle, authorities said Goldson attacked him and used his shackles to hit him over the head. Documents say Goldson also attempted to steal the deputy's firearm.

Several hospital staff members were out for a smoke break during the attack and were able to hold Goldson down.

At 2:35 a.m., three jail personnel put Goldson back in cell No. 15, first removing his belongings and his blanket. Documents say the three "did not notice" that his bed sheet was still with him.

Twenty-five minutes later, Goldson was dead, found hanging from a sprinkler head in the cell.

Goldson's Family In Shock

"I want to know what happened, and why,” said Goldson’s mother, 46-year-old Christina Dennis. “What went wrong?"

When Goldson was arrested in September, he was charged with having a weapon under disability, possessing a dangerous ordnance -- a sawed off .22-caliber weapon -- and shooting across a roadway near his mother’s home.

Four days before his death, Goldson wrote Dennis and another family member a letter from jail that discussed his future.

“(I’m) ready to do these 5 years im about to get for these gun charges,” Goldson wrote in the letter. “Im just writin you to tell you I love you…I’m going to miss you both and Im prayin you are still around when I get out because I don’t want to loose my mom while im in jail. (sic)”

After hearing about her son's death, Dennis didn’t know what to believe.

But as time went on, she grew angry and confused – her son had never threatened to hurt himself before, she said.

"At first I thought it was a suicide until all the information started coming in,” she said. “There was so much evidence, it became clear that something was wrong."

 

The Hour Before His Death

"I’d like to break your f***ing neck right now"

That's what one deputy can be heard saying after restraining Goldson when he attempted to escape custody about an hour before his death.

When Goldson hit Deputy Justice with his shackles, three county and city law enforcement officers responded to the scene.

Dashcam video from Georgetown Police Patrol Officer Matt Staggs recorded the response, as well as a conversation between the officers and Goldson.

Goldson can be heard panting on the recording as he is held down.

“Shut up dude," one officer yells.

“What’s your name, trash?" another asks.

“Zach Goldson,” Goldson responds, choking and gulping in air.

"Since we’ve got an injured deputy, that’s another felony,” an officer later tells Goldson.

"Yeah. Hope you like prison b***h," another chimes in.

Then later, “I’d like to break your f***ing neck right now.”

Following the incident, Corrections Officer Zane Schadle, Deputy Ryan Wedmore, Deputy Jason Huff and Deputy George Dunning brought Goldson back to his cell, according to documents obtained by the I-Team.

Goldson was put in paper clothing but was not under suicide watch, the documents show. If he were on suicide watch, procedure would require he was checked every 10 minutes. Instead, Goldson was set to be checked every hour.

Coroner's Office documents show corrections officer Sarah McKenzie would later find Goldson hanging from the sprinkler head.

Shortly after responding to the scene, the coroner said she interviewed the four law enforcement officers who brought Goldson to his cell.

The transcript reads as follows:

Coroner to Officer Schadle: "What was his state when he came back, because I understand that you were putting him in?"

Schadle: "He had just attacked a deputy at the hospital, he was still sketchy."

Coroner: "Sketchy, what does that mean?"

Schadle: "He was kind of fidgety, resisting, angry."

Coroner: "So, you just sat him in there?"

Schadle: "Put him on a bed in there, got the cuffs off of him, left the cell closed the door."

Coroner: "And so, he was probably in there about how long?"

Schadle: "Probably, 2:30 to 2:40 a.m., somewhere around there is when we left the cell. And then I found him at 2:55 a.m.”

Coroner: "So, it was you, you, and another person that put him in the cell."

Deputy Dunning: "Well, when we put him in from coming back, it was me, Dep. Wedmore, and Huff."

Coroner: "And he seemed not anything more than agitated or jittery when you put him in the cell?"

Dunning: "I don't really know how to describe it. He was pretty shooken up."

Coroner: "Why do you think he was shook up?"

Dunning: "He knew he was in a lot of trouble. He knew the charges were going up, he knew he was trying to escape and he got caught. He knew what kind of trouble he was in, and that's why all this happened, so….He was looking at a lot of time."

Coroner: "Makes for a fast night for you all?"

Dunning: "Not fast enough."

When Goldson’s mother later watched the dashboard video following Goldson’s attack on the deputy, more questions surfaced.

"(I’m) very sad, and just angry at the same time,” Dennis said. “Not knowing what was going through his mind, if he knew what was going to happen to him."

She didn’t understand why Goldson would swallow the pen, toothbrush and other items. She couldn’t comprehend why her son would attack the deputy.

"He's never done anything like that before,” Dennis said. “I don't know if that was -- something happened in the jail, you know, that he wanted out of there badly. Something must have really went wrong in the six days he was there because he's been in trouble before and he had never done anything like this.”

Could Goldson Reach The Sprinkler?

Goldson was discovered hanging from a bed sheet fastened to a sprinkler head 9 and a half feet above the floor of his cell, according to the coroner.

The 24-year-old was 6-foot-1.

In order to determine how Goldson could reach the sprinkler head, the coroner said every surface and object in the room was measured.

According to the documents obtained by the I-Team, both Goldson's toilet and bed were 12 feet from the center of his cell. If Goldson were standing on either of these objects, his reach would have to be a little more than 8 and a half feet in order to touch the sprinkler -- that would require a 7.1 degree leaning tilt while pivoting at the ankle.

"That is the maximum point where the center of gravity of a 6-foot-1 person would approximately be...before falling down without something to hold on to in order to prevent falling down," a note from the coroner stated.

The coroner's conclusion: "It would be physically impossible for (Goldson) to reach the sprinkler..."

Sheriff's Office Calls Coroner's Ruling 'Political'

Immediately after discovering Goldson's body, the Brown County sheriff called in the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), which has not yet completed its inquiry on the death.

Chief Deputy J.K. Schadle released a statement Wednesday, calling out the coroner's findings.

"The Brown County Sheriff's Office contacted BCI upon the discovery of an in-custody death...The (sheriff's office) has full confidence that BCI will reach their conclusions based on facts, not someone's political agenda," he said.

Schadle would not answer questions about Goldson's case because the BCI investigation is still open, but said he believes its findings will be different from the coroner's.

"I think if you review the facts as I understand them -- I don't know what facts would lead to the conclusion of a homicide," Schadle said. "I think BCI's report will probably spell that out in detail."

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