WATCH: What Happened to Zachary Goldson? Video Shows Final Seconds Before Inmate’s Death

GEORGETOWN, Ohio – Ninety-six seconds.

That’s how long two Brown County Sheriff’s Office employees were in the jail cell of Adult Detention Center inmate Zachary Goldson the morning he died, according to new evidence obtained by the I-Team.

Twenty-three minutes and 42 seconds.

That’s the amount of time state investigators said Goldson was alone in his cell before jail employees found him hanging from the sprinkler head.

The sheriff’s office called the Oct. 5, 2013 death a suicide.

Brown County Coroner Judith A. Varnau called it something else: a homicide by strangulation and a cover-up.

This key question – suicide or homicide – has left the county’s criminal justice system in an ongoing state of dysfunction for more than a year.

The I-Team pored through hundreds of pages of state records and hours of never-before-seen video evidence to uncover the truth:

What really happened to Zachary Goldson?

A Trip to the Hospital

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Goldson told officers pinning him to the ground outside the Southwest Regional Medical Center in Georgetown at about 2:25 the morning of his death.

He was apologizing for hitting Deputy Travis Justice over the head with his shackles.

The 24-year-old was scheduled to have an endoscopy at the hospital after he swallowed a pen, a toothbrush and some staples at the detention center hours earlier.

When Justice unlocked his vehicle after walking out of the hospital, he said Goldson attacked him from behind and reached for his firearm.

Three county and city law enforcement officers responded to the scene to help Justice. The incident was recorded on Georgetown Police Patrol Officer Matt Staggs’ cruiser camera.

Goldson can be heard panting on the video 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 tells Goldson.

When Deputy Ryan Wedmore arrives on the scene, he checks on Justice and is heard asking Goldson, “What the f*** is wrong with you, you stupid motherf***er?”

Wedmore adds later, “Hope you like prison, b***h.”

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

As Goldson is placed into Wedmore’s cruiser at about 2:29 a.m., an unidentified officer can be heard saying in Goldson’s presence, “That motherf***er’s getting a welcoming party when he gets to the jail.”

Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) agents said they attempted to identify the person who made the final remark, but officers and witnesses present at the time claimed they didn’t remember it being said.

Staggs later told BCI agents he “heard unprofessional comments made by a Brown County deputy while on the scene,” but never observed any unnecessary force.

Goldson died within 30 minutes of this incident.

What Happened in Cell No. 15?

Wedmore drove Goldson back to the Brown County Adult Detention Center minutes after the hospital attack. Deputies removed him from the cruiser, dropped him on the ground and quickly walked him into jail to his cell.

Recently released jail video obtained by the I-Team shows Corrections Officer Zane Schadle and Deputy George Dunning place Goldson into cell No. 15 at 2:32 a.m. while Wedmore and Corporal Jason Huff watch from the hallway. BCI’s Cyber Crime Unit found no signs of tampering with the jail video system.

State agents estimated Schadle and Dunning were in the cell with Goldson for 96 seconds. What happened inside the cell is not visible from the jail’s surveillance camera.

The deputies told state investigators they removed Goldson’s handcuffs during that minute-and-a-half. They said they also took Goldson’s shoes and his blanket, but “did not notice” that his bed sheet was still with him when they left the cell.

“We didn’t see a sheet,” Dunning told state investigators in an interview after the incident. “(Schadle and I) talked about it afterwards. We don’t know if it was tucked under the mat or what.”

Before closing and locking the door, Schadle said he told Goldson “he would be Tazed” if he got up.

Schadle and Dunning told BCI they went to check on Goldson at 2:58 a.m. – exactly 23 minutes and 42 seconds after leaving his cell.

That’s when they said they saw him hanging.

“I went and put the key in the door,” Dunning said. “(Schadle) is standing next to me. He looks through the window in the door and goes ‘Oh, s**t.’ Then I turned and look, and the same thing (comes) out of my mouth.”

BCI said the jail video may appear to freeze because it is motion activated. Agents said there were no signs of tampering.

Schadle said he wrapped his arms around Goldson to hold him up while Dunning used a pocketknife to cut the sheet wrapped around the inmate’s neck. The other end was tied around the cell’s sprinkler head.

Other jail employees are seen in the surveillance video running through the hallway for help.

Dunning said he put Goldson back in handcuffs as a safety precaution while Schadle performed chest compressions.

Goldson was pronounced dead at 3:11 a.m.

Coroner Points the Finger

Brown County Coroner Judith A. Varnau arrived at the detention center at 3:55 a.m. While examining the scene, she said she interviewed the four law enforcement officers who brought Goldson to his cell.

Varnau ruled the death a homicide less than two months later on Nov. 30, and claimed in an email sent to investigators that Goldson “could not have hanged himself, but had to have help in making it look like he did.”

“There were only four individuals who escorted him to the holding cell through doors 17 and 16,” she said. “One or more, or all, of those individuals had to have had some part in the death of Mr. Goldson.”

BCI agents interviewed Wedmore, Huff, Dunning and Schadle individually the day of Goldson’s death.

Each of them denied having anything to do with the inmate’s hanging, and claimed there was no way a jail employee was responsible.

“We were together the whole time,” Dunning said. “There was no one else (in the jail) that could have been around. I was just as shocked.”

Wedmore said Goldson was agitated on the drive back to the detention center that morning, and kept repeating, “I f***ed up.”

He said Goldson was in the right mindset to take his own life.

“He just got into a fight with an officer,” Wedmore said. “He knew he was going to get a couple more felonies. He just said he had to get out. Obviously, the guy is going to be a little bit suicidal if he knows he was going to go to prison for assaulting a police officer.”

BCI agents also confronted the deputies about their comments to Goldson outside the hospital.

Huff admitted to being “not 100 percent professional,” but said no officers did anything “out of conduct.”

Dunning echoed those statements.

“I’m not going to tell you we were friendly with him. We weren’t,” Dunning said. “But we were not abusive or anything.”

Staff members at Southwest Regional Medical Center who witnessed Goldson’s attack on Justice told state investigators they “did no observe any unnecessary force used against” Goldson.


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Filming Cops
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Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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