An Ohio coroner ruled the October hanging death of a man in police custody to be homicide by strangulation last week, contradicting claims made by local law enforcement.
Nine days after his arrest, 24-year-old Zachary Goldson was discovered hanging from a bed sheet at the Brown County jail. While officers claimed suicide, autopsy results released last week by Brown County Coroner Judith Varnau revealed that to be an impossibility.
According to jail documents, Goldson, who had reportedly swallowed a toothbrush, pen and staples, was scheduled to receive an endoscopy and cleared for transport hours before his death. While attempting to remove Goldson from a police vehicle, authorities say Deputy Travis Justice was struck in the head as Goldson struggled to obtain his firearm.
“He’s never done anything like that before,” Goldson’s mother Christina Dennis told WCPO 9 News. “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.”
Dashcam video shows the moment several officers arrive to assist Deputy Justice in detaining Goldson. Once detained, officers reveal what some consider an eerily specific threat only one hour before Goldson’s death.
“This motherf***er is going to receive a welcome party at the jail,” one officer says. “I’d like to break your f***ing neck right now.”
Back in jail, Goldson was given paper clothing and removed of all his possessions before being placed in his cell by three officers. According to jail documents, all three “did not notice” Goldson carrying a bed sheet. Only twenty-five minutes later, Goldson was discovered hanging from his cell’s sprinkler head.
In light of a letter received four days prior, Goldson’s mother was confused at her son’s apparent suicide. Goldman had expressed his readiness to serve his sentence and return back home.
“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)” Goldson wrote.
Goldson’s mother grew more suspicious once the results of her son’s autopsy were released, revealing his death to be murder by strangulation, not suicide.
“Both Goldson’s toilet and bed were 12 feet from the center of his cell,” WCPO 9 explained. “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,” the coroner stated in her report. “It would be physically impossible for (Goldson) to reach the sprinkler…”
Coincidentally, when investigators attempted to obtain jail surveillance video, footage from one of the area’s three motion-activated cameras was deleted. According to the coroner, video of Goldson moments before his death was removed by one of the sheriffs.
Chief Deputy J.K. Schadle immediately refuted the coroner’s claims, alleging her findings were “politically motivated” and not supported by facts.
“The Brown County Sheriff’s Office contacted BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigation) 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,” Schadle said.
Schadle remains confident that the BCI’s report will rule out homicide as the cause of death.