- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - Members of a southern Ohio sheriff’s department have sued their county’s coroner over her homicide finding in a jail inmate’s death.

The Brown County sheriff’s office says the inmate hanged himself with a bedsheet in his cell last year. Brown County Coroner Judith Varnau ruled that Zachary Goldson died of strangulation.

Five sheriff’s employees recently filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in Cincinnati accusing Varnau and her husband, Dennis Varnau, of defamation, conspiracy, and other charges. They seek unspecified punitive and compensatory damages and a court order to change her homicide ruling.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the jail death.

The lawsuit is the latest round in a long-running battle between the Varnaus and the sheriff’s office. The lawsuit says it “embodies years of repeated and continuing lies and defamatory remarks lobbed … against members of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Varnaus have campaigned “to besmirch the names and reputations of every sheriff’s office employee that oversaw Goldson’s jailing” and compromised state investigative efforts and grand jury proceedings.

Goldson, 24, had been jailed on weapons-related charges and allegedly attacked a deputy and tried to steal his gun in the hours before his death Oct. 5, 2013. The sheriff’s employees state in the court documents that Goldson had twice been taken to the hospital after swallowing items including a pen and toothbrush.

The coroner Tuesday referred questions to her attorney, who said he was studying the lawsuit’s allegations.

“We will have a detailed response and we’ll be defending it aggressively,” said attorney Thomas Eagle.

The Brown County board of county commissioners is also named as a defendant. A message was left Tuesday seeking comment.

Varnau has been accused in other litigation of failing to carry out her duties because of her conflict with the sheriff’s office. A judge earlier this year dismissed a lawsuit that sought to have her removed from office that was filed by the parents of a man whose death she ruled a suicide.

Dennis Varnau, who accompanies her to death scenes and does office work for her, lost an election bid for sheriff in 2008 and then unsuccessfully tried to have Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger removed from office. His wife is an obstetrician and gynecologist elected coroner in 2012 in the county that is some 40 miles southeast of Cincinnati.

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Contact the reporter at https://www.twitter.com/dansewell


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