The family of Zachary Goldson is continuing their fight for justice against employees of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office in federal court.
Attorneys for the estate of Zachary Goldson filed a civil rights complaint on Friday, Oct. 2, in U.S. District Court against Brown County, Brown County Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger and eight other employees of the BCSO, alleging the defendants deprived Goldson of his constitutional rights, were negligent in their conduct towards Goldson, committed assault on Goldson, all of which led to Goldson suffering what the plaintiff’s are calling ‘wrongful death’.
Goldson’s family are asking for a trial by jury to decide the judgment that will compensate Goldson and his family for compensatory and punitive damages. They are asking that the judgment be in excess of $75,000.
“In civil rights cases, for whatever reason, grand juries refuse to pursue civil charges,” plaintiff’s attorney John J. Helbling, of the Helbling Law Firm, said. “As far as what the Montgomery County coroner decided of Mr. Goldson, there’s various conflicting evidence that we’ve seen from different reports. There are some issues to discuss and we saw it prudent to file.”
The filing date of the lawsuit, which is in the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division and will be on Judge S.J. Dlott’s docket, comes just short of two years since Goldson was discovered hanged in his jail cell at the Brown County Adult Detention Center on Oct. 5, 2013. Brown County Coroner Dr. Judith Varnau ruled after an investigation that the cause of death was homicide, but the Montgomery County Coroner ruled it a suicide.
The Brown County Grand Jury declined to press charges on Dec. 10, 2014 against anyone involved in the incident, according to court documents, and ruled that they believed that Goldson’s death was a suicide.
Much of the controversy in Goldson’s death revolves around whether in his physical state he could have hung himself on a sprinkler in his cell on his own, and that he was allegedly alone in his cell for 21 minutes, much longer than the mandated checking times that BCSO jail officers must perform.
The lawsuit was brought on by Goldson’s sister, Ashley Bard, who is the administrator of Goldson’s estate. The statute of limitations in Ohio to file a wrongful death lawsuit is two years.
Listed as defendants in the case are Brown County, Sheriff Wenninger, Deputy Ryan Wedmore, Lieutenant Larry Meyer, Corporal Jason Huff, Deputy George Dunning, Deputy Sarah McKinzie, and former Corrections Officer Zane Schadle. According to Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little, Frank D. Hatfield from Fishel Hass Kim Albrecht LLP will represent the defendants.
Goldson had been incarcerated in the Brown County Jail in October 2013 on felony charges of having weapons while under disability, unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance, and discharging a firearm near a public road or highway. But on the night of Oct. 4, 2013 into the early hours of Oct. 5, Goldson’s life slipped out of control.
Goldson was transported twice on Oct. 4 to Southwest Regional Medical Center after allegedly ingesting a number of items, including his tooth brush, a plastic tube, and a pen. After being released initially in the afternoon and transported back to the jail, Goldson complained of pain and was again taken to the hospital.
According to the complaint, he was released at 2:20 a.m. on Oct. 5 and got into a physical altercation with a BCSO deputy. Goldson was quickly subdued, the complaint continues, and backup arrived within five minutes.
It’s here where allegations of abuse begin, as the complaint states that while Goldson was handcuffed on the ground, Wedmore screamed and cursed at Goldson, including allegedly stating he would like to break Goldson’s neck.
When Goldson was returned to his cell, the complaint states it appeared he was in handcuffs and had waist and ankle restraints. Huff, Wedmore, Dunning, and Schadle allegedly removed Goldson’s shoes and other items from the cell, including a blanket, and threw them in the hallway at around 2:40 a.m.
The grand jury’s findings claim that Goldson’s “handcuffs, shackles, and transport belt” as well as his shoes and blanket were all removed, and the door to the cell was slammed shut at 2:34 a.m.
What is consistent from both accounts is that between 2:40 a.m. and 2:58 a.m., no BCSO employees checked in on Goldson.
The grand jury’s findings state that Schadle discovered Goldson hanging in his cell, and he and McKinzie as well as another BCSO deputy began resuscitation efforts.
Goldson was eventually pronounced dead at the scene by Georgetown EMS life squad personnel at 3:11 a.m.
As of press time, copies of the lawsuit had not yet been served to the defendants, according to Helbling. He also stated that due to the amount of discovery needed for a case such as this, as well as the large amount of legal motions that are expected, the trial could take many years before it is concluded.