By Wayne Gates –
Dennis Varnau is protected by the first amendment to talk about the Zachary Goldson case online.
That was the ruling on April 7 by Brown County Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler, when he denied a preliminary injunction against Varnau.
A second defamation case was filed against Varnau and his wife, former Brown County Coroner Dr. Judith Varnau, on February 28. The suit also asked for a temporary restraining order to keep Varnau from discussing the case online.
The case is continuing, but in the April 7 ruling Gusweiler wrote “The Defendants are now private citizens who have the right to free speech. If they abuse that right and defame another person or persons, they may be sued successfully for defamation, if all the elements of that tortious conduct are met.”
The local suit is filed on behalf of the same defendants in a federal defamation case, five current or former members of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office that claim the Varnau’s have defamed them by accusing them of murdering BCSO inmate Zachary Goldson in October of 2013. Goldson died in his cell and his death was ruled a homicide by Dr. Varnau, who was Coroner at the time.
The new case centers around a video posted on Youtube titled “The morning Zachary Goldson DID NOT hang himself in the Brown County, Ohio Detention Center.”
The video is two hours and thirteen minutes long and was posted under the name “Dennis Varnau.”
It opens with text which reads in part “this case may involve several elected officials and others in a corrupt activities case” under Ohio law.
The suit also lists numerous postings by Dennis Varnau on the website forum “Topix” talking about the Goldson case and refering to the inmates death as a homicide and offering theories as to how his death was not a suicide.
The local suit also contains an affidavit by Tara Downing that Dennis Varnau visited her home on January 30.
Downing states that Varnau told her that he “‘represented the deceased’ (Goldson) and that his questions about Goldson’s death were being asked in that capacity.”
Downing’s affidavit also states “After my repeated refusals to be involved with the Varnau’s investigation, Mr. Varnau left his card with me. The card lists Dr. Varnau as the Coroner of Brown County, which led me to believe he was acting in an official capacity through the Coroners’s Office. Mr. Varnau hand-wrote his cell phone number on the back of the card.”
Dr. Varnau’s term as coroner ended on January 1, 29 days before Varnau’s visit to Downing’s home.
Downing then recounts that she received two text messages from Varnau three weeks later, one of which that read “Tara, I’ve posted a video on YouTube that shows without doubt that Zachary Goldson DID NOT hang himself in Jail Cell 15 – October 5, 2013.”
Downing states that Varnau called her after sending the text.
“Mr. Varnau warned me that he was worried something might happen to my son if I failed to cooperate with his investigation. Mr. Varnau leads me to believe that my son’s wellbeing may be in danger if I continue refusing to participate in his investigation.”
Downing also states that Varnau engaged in activity may have violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or “HIPPA” law.
“I asked Mr. Varnau how he tracked down my address,” her affidavit reads.
“Mr. Varnau explained that Dr. Barbara Patridge, who is my OB/GYN and works with Dr. Varnau at Brown County Women’s Health, LLC, supplied Dennis Varnau with my address. I never consented to the release of any information to Dennis Varnau from my healthcare provider.”
Regarding the Downing affidavit, Varnau attorney Thomas Eagle said, “There is a whole lot in there that is not true and we will be proving that in court.”
In regard to the allegations against Varnau involving Downing, Gusweiler wrote, “It is abundantly clear that the Defendants are no longer entitled to as Public Officials and are no longer entitled to act under the color of a Public Office. The court hereby Orders that the Defendants are not to hold themselves out as a Public Official, Coroner, Deputy Coroner, Coroner’s Investigator or as acting in any other official capacity.”
In August of 2014, a grand jury ruled that there was no evidence that Goldson was murdered and his death was considered a suicide by investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Following the grand jury decision, the Varnau’s continued to pursue the case until the five deputies filed a lawsuit in January of 2015 to stop the investigation activity.
Brown County Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler ruled in August of 2016 that the investigative activity of the Varnau’s must stop.
In that decision, Gusweiler wrote in part that “By continuing to conduct an inquest after having already determined the mode, manner and cause of death, the Coroner exceeds her statutory authority and exacerbates the loss of the Goldson family needlessly. Therefore, the Court hereby permanently enjoins (forbids) the Defendant Brown County Coroner from issuing or enforcing any subpoenas that concern the death of Zachary Goldson. She is further enjoined from engaging in any activity whatsoever concerning the mode, manner and cause of death of Zachary Goldson.”
The posting of the video and other alleged activity by Dennis Varnau named in the lawsuit may violate the August 2016 decision in the case issued by Gusweiler.
Dr. Varnau has been previously found in contempt of court by Brown County Magistrate W. Kenneth Zuk for violating a temporary order of Gusweiler issued in the case in April of 2015.
A second motion for a contempt ruling in the latest local case is currently pending before Gusweiler.