The U.S. Department of Justice's assertion that Carlton Benton died as a result of being strangled and assaulted while in the Lucas County jail directly contradicts the county coroner's ruling that the man's death was natural.
Dr. Cynthia Beisser, the deputy coroner who performed the autopsy, said last night that she stands by her work.
"He was not beaten to death. That would have been a no-brainer on my part," she said.
That original ruling remains in effect, but it could be changed if compelling new evidence surfaced.
"The first thing we're going to do is get the information that resulted in the indictment," Coroner James Patrick said. "We have been unofficially told about some of that, but we have received nothing official. When we do, we will take that into consideration and re-evaluate our position. We have been interested in this whole thing since the issue surfaced some time ago. We have put any re-evaluation of our position on hold until we get the new information."
Dr. Patrick declined to release any details of the unofficial information his office received.
Lucas County Sheriff James Telb and three members of his staff were indicted in U.S. District Court in Toledo yesterday on criminal charges related to Mr. Benton's death and allegations of a subsequent cover-up.
According to the federal indictment, a handcuffed Mr. Benton was "assaulted and strangled" and "struck and assaulted" on May 30, 2004, in the jail's booking area.
Dr. Beisser and Dr. Patrick concluded Mr. Benton died of seizure disorder in association with the use of bupropion, an antidepressant drug.
The case summary notes "severe cerebral edema with brainstem herniation" and "recent abrasions on neck, hands, and feet" among the anatomic diagnoses.
Mr. Benton died in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center June 1, 2004. Jail officials said he was taken there after being found in his cell not breathing. He had just been returned from the hospital after suffering seizures.
Shortly after conducting the autopsy in 2004, Dr. Beisser said she found no evidence of trauma, foul play, or abuse.
No cause of death was issued until all medical records, routine toxicology tests, and police reports were reviewed.
During his first visit to the hospital, Mr. Benton reportedly became aggressive toward deputies and hospital staff, behavior that included making threats and attempts to get out of his restraints.
Three deputies and three hospital security personnel struggled to get him into a belly chain and ankle cuffs to return him to jail. He spat and was verbally abusive, according to reports.
According to the official version of events at the time, he continued to be violent on his return to jail, where he was held by the legs and body while his restraints were removed.
Mr. Benton was conscious and breathing when he was locked in his cell. Fifteen minutes later, a corrections officer found him unconscious, officials said at the time, and a nurse and paramedics administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Mr. Benton later had a pulse and was breathing, but on his return to the hospital was put on life support before he died.
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