FREMONT — The Ohio Attorney General’s Office will act as special prosecutor in an investigation into the 2007 death of an Oak Harbor, Ohio, man who died shortly after his arrest.
Craig Burdine, 37, was pronounced dead at Fremont Memorial Hospital on Aug. 11, 2007, soon after Fremont police officers responded to a call of a fight and arrested him.
Mr. Burdine and officers struggled at the scene. He was taken to the Sandusky County jail, where according to court documents, he resisted and fought with deputies who used a Taser gun to stun him three times.
An autopsy performed by the Lucas County coroner’s office determined the death was caused by combined drug intoxication during a drug-induced delirium. His family disputed the accidental death ruling, and a hired expert contended he died of asphyxia after his neck was severely compressed while he was restrained.
A federal lawsuit against Sandusky County, the city of Fremont, and individual defendants filed in 2009 by Jess Burdine of Oak Harbor alleged his son died because of use of excessive force. The suit was dismissed, but the death is still under scrutiny.
The attorney general’s office on Thursday received court appointment to serve as special prosecutor, at the request of Sandusky County Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Stierwalt.
The state agency will determine if a crime occurred and if prosecution should be pursued, said attorney general spokesman Dan Tierney.
“We would investigate the circumstances. It may or may not involve a grand jury process,” he said.
Mr. Stierwalt, Jess Burdine, and three attorneys who have represented Mr. Burdine could not be reached for comment Friday.
In a July letter to the attorney general’s office, Mr. Stierwalt said he recently met with Jess Burdine, who shared portions of deposition transcripts from the dismissed civil case. Mr. Burdine asked Mr. Stierwalt to request the state agency serve as special prosecutor because he felt the county prosecutor “had a conflict due to the fact that my investigator is the father of one of the sheriff’s personnel involved in the incident,” Mr. Stierwalt wrote.
Teresa Grigsby, a Toledo attorney who represented Sandusky County and county officials, said previous reviews by local authorities, including Fremont police, found nothing to suggest “any criminal wrongdoing.”
She said the civil suit prompted extensive discovery and roughly 60 depositions. U.S. District Judge James Carr dismissed the case, a decision affirmed months ago by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
“[Craig Burdine] was not strangled to death by anybody in the jail, and the expert testimony is clear on that point and the Sixth Circuit found absolutely no reason to find otherwise,” Ms. Grigsby said.
Years before his death, Craig Burdine successfully sued neighboring law enforcement agencies. His federal lawsuit against the city of Port Clinton, Ottawa County, and individual defendants contended he was subjected to excessive force at the Ottawa County jail following a 1996 arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.
He suffered “physical and psychological injuries” because of that incident and had hallucinations and nightmares “of being pursued, beaten, and killed by police,” according to court filings.
A federal jury awarded him $600,000 in the case.
The 2009 lawsuit filed by his father alleged some defendants named in the earlier suit knew or are friends of defendants in the suit alleging wrongful death. Ms. Grigsby disputed that claim.
The matter is the second high-profile Sandusky County death to be referred recently to the attorney general’s office. The state agency in June took over the investigation into the shooting death of Jacob Limberios, 19, of Castalia, Ohio.
John Wukie, the Sandusky County coroner, ruled his death a suicide, but family-hired forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh called it a homicide.
In that case, a judge removed a special prosecutor from the case and told the attorney general’s office to take over amid conflict-of-interest concerns from the teen’s family.
Ms. Grigsby said publicity surrounding Mr. Limberios’ case may have played a part in prompting the Burdine family to request an investigation into Craig Burdine’s death.