Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brown County: Coroner Reaps What She Sows, Makes Ludicrous Request

The Newly elected Coroner of Brown County is at it again. This time, she had to reap what she sowed. In a previous post, we shared the Brown County Press coverage of Jilted Judith Varnau, new Brown County Coroner, who is hellbent on continuing her husband's insane vendetta against Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger. Well, now it has affected business in the county. Varnau, who basically mouths whatever her conspiracy nut husband tells her too, never agreeing to interviews but only communicating via email or memo, ruined the relationship between the sheriff's office and the coroner. She questioned the ability of sheriff deputies to be able to process evidence or handle death scenes. Well, her chickens have come home to roost, and she is the only one looking like an arse. From intrepid editor Wayne Gates of the Brown County Press:
​Varnau has complained about the actions of the Brown County Sheriff's office in an e-mail to the Brown County Commissioners.She is also asking the commissioners for a $500,000 increase in her budget. ​Meanwhile, Brown County Prosecuting Attorney Jessica Little has asked the commissioners to appoint special counsel for Varnau and allow her to withdraw. ​ In a letter to the commissioners dated Jan. 23, Little wrote; "It has come to my attention that the Coroner, Dr. Varnau, is claiming that I breached attorney-client privilege...It appears to me that I cannot continue to represent a statutory client that has made such claims against me and the county." The basis of the complaint of violation of attorney-client privilege stems from Little complying with public records requests submitted by The Brown County Press.  Brown County Commission President Tony Applegate said that the board sees no reason to grant the request of Little at this time. He added that the 2013 budget of the Coroner has been set and that an increase at this time would not be forthcoming.
So, Varnau has besmirched every law enforcement county official. She claims Little violated attorney client privilege for complying with a public records request. Gee, Mrs. Varnau, what have you to hide? Are you part of a great Varnau conspiracy? But it gets better. Following is info from the Press article about why she wants the 500k increase to her budget:
On Jan. 30, the body of Rhonda Cheesman, who had been reported missing from Georgetown, was discovered near Russellville. Varnau wrote the following e-mail to the Brown County Commissioners on Friday, Feb 1. It was obtained through a public records request.  Commissioners Applegate, Woodruff, and Gray: ​On January 30, 2013, I was called out to the scene of Ms. Cheesman's car in the middle of a field, at least a quarter mile off-road, on McNoun Road. The deputies escorted me to the scene and relayed that it was a coroner's death scene and refused to be involved. Although I remarked that as agreed upon January 3rd, the coroner's scene should be the immediate area surrounding the body. So, the entire car in the field was not the coroner's scene. The deputies stated that if the Sheriff's Office was needed for further assistance, I would have to request it through the prosecutor's office. They left me alone out in the field with a locked car containing a dead body with no way of accessing the body, so I could not do my job of determining the manner and cause of death. I then called for a towing company, Shafer Towing, and Carl Shafer and his assistant "Dennis" responded to the location. Carl assisted in getting the car unlocked. I made a cursory exam of the body and noted what appeared to be potential bruising on the decedent's hands and moisture content surrounding the body, causing me to think that it was a suspicious death, but could be a suicide with special circumstances (normal procedure is to investigate all suspected suicides as potential homicides). I called the Communications Center to contact Jessica Little so that I could summon SO assistance on the scene. She stated she would contact the SO. After waiting more than an hour, I contacted the Communications Center to get an estimated time of arrival (ETA) of the SO, only to find that there was no request made to the SO to respond. In calling Jessica Little again, she stated that she left a message on my phone (my home phone) while I was out in the field at the scene, not leaving a potential crime scene unattended which would have broken any chain of evidence present. In contacting her again, she stated that she needed my written report and a written request for what kind of evidence the SO would need for me from the scene. She also stated that it was my responsibility to preserve and secure the scene and obtain evidence for use in any potential trial. I explained to her that I was out in the field (in the rain, sleet, mud, and cold), keeping the scene secured without capabilities to write and/or fax a coroner's report for her to request SO assistance at the scene. She stated she was sorry but could not do anything since I did not sign the SO policy. Apparently, more new policies were developed (that I was not informed of prior to this incident) that I had not signed. I then contacted the Communications Center, asking them to contact the Sheriff for me. I got a reply call from Chief Schadle. He said that the SO would not assist until after the autopsy report confirmed that it was a homicide, due to the new policy developed because I would not sign the prior SO policy. I told him I was not aware of a new policy different from our agreements made at the January 3, 2013 meeting. I then contacted the Communications Center to have them contact BCI to get an investigative unit out to the scene. I first responded to the scene at 1550 hrs by call from the Communications Center at 1530 hrs. I remained on the scene along with Carl Shafer and my husband (who I called to come help, arriving at the scene about 1730 hrs), waiting for BCI to show up, keeping the scene secure for investigation. (Sgt. Hency from Russellville PD also came out around 1945 hrs with heavier coats, gloves, rain gear, and flashlights, after he called my husband to find out if we needed anything. He remained on the scene with the three of us until the vehicle was removed from the field and put on the rollback tow truck). When BCI arrived, they did a cursory scene assessment in the field where there was so much mud and water around the vehicle that it would be impossible to make any determination of tire tracks, etc, and they decided that it would be best to remove the car from the field and take it to a garage where the vehicle and body could be processed by the BCI agents, as the only scene now was inside the vehicle. The vehicle was towed to Mount Orab Maintenance Building for processing, which was completed about 0150 hrs, and I left to notify the next-of-kin on Hamer Road from about 0200 to 0315 hrs.
Now, remember, it was Dr. Varnau who raised issues about deputiees being liable for handling death scenes and how death scenes were her territory. Sheriff Wenninger and Co. were following the letter of the law. After all, we wouldn't want to violate the law and be subject to charges by Varnau, who does have the power to charge law enforcemement with breaking rules of evidence, etc. But yet, she calls her husband to come to a crime scene and I don't believe he is a law enforcement official, just an attorney. So isn't her calling in her husband to a potential crime scene a possible break in the chain of evidence? Ms. Varnau goes on to complain that she was unaware of changes to policy, when my sources tell me every effort has been made to get her to come to some type of agreement with the sheriff's office. Ms. Varnau's statements do not match fact, as in her claim she made no request to Jessica Little to ask the Attorney General to rule of Wenninger's qualifications for duty, even though her attorney did indeed make a request (kind of stretches plausible deniability, don't you think?). She has shown that she cares more for this vendetta than in doing her job. But here is where the 500K request comes in:
After consulting with two coroners, Clermont and Montgomery Counties, they said that I could had no power to make the SO do their duty, but if I was going to have to perform what had to be done on this type of scene regularly, then I would need about $500K to establish the necessary personnel and equipment to handle death scene cases. It was suggested that since the SO has been being paid to handle all these scenes in the past, this $500K might be deducted and/or moved from the SO budget over to the coroner's budget. The scope of my investigation was to determine the cause and manner of death. Any other investigation of a potential crime scene was the responsibility of the SO. For the coroner's office to possess the investigative capabilities, including evidence collection and storage at a coroner's office here in Brown County, I would need extra funding and change in the law to cover any assumption of these law enforcement's duties, not being a "law enforcement officer." ​ According to the Attorney General opinion, AGO 88-035: Scope of investigation; discretion: Neither the coroner, nor his staff may go beyond the investigative tasks necessary to determine the manner, mode, and cause of death; however, it is within the coroner's discretion to determine which investigative tasks are necessary. ​ When I determined that it was a suspicious scene, and that investigative protocol was necessary, the SO should have responded upon a verbal request through the Communications Center. If this were a crime scene and the perpetrator had returned to that remote field, and harmed or killed me being alone, or, if I were attacked by a pack of wild dogs or coyotes without any means to protect myself, would CORSA cover the liability incurred by the SO dereliction of duty? I, and my husband, do not think Det. Moore would have left his wife, or any other individual or elected official by themselves, out in the field unprotected from the elements and whatever could possibly happen at such a remote location." ​
So, what Varnau is going to do, is she is going to end up suing the county or some such nonsense claiming she is unable to do her duty. More vengeance by the Varnaus, who can't get over the fact that the County has rejected Dennis Varnau for public office again and again! Sheriff Wenninger, for his part, is trying to stay above the fray:
"If she is going to a scene and she feels that there may be a safety issue, she can call 9-1-1 and request help. We will respond if there is any danger of life and limb to her." Regarding the tensions between the two offices, Wenninger said he has no choice but to follow Ohio Law. "She insisted on going exactly by the law at the beginning of all this, so we are going to go exactly by the law as well.", he said. "If we both go exactly by the law, we'll be just fine."  Regarding her difficulty at the Cheesman death scene, Wenninger was unsympathetic. "She wanted the job and she's got it. It's up to her to do it. If she doesn't want to do the job, if it's too much for her, let her resign and get somebody else." He also said that due to recent decisions by Varnau, he cannot operate with the same level of trust with her that he has operated under with previous coroners. "I can go down a list and show you how many times she's approved our policy and then go home and come back and change her mind two or three times." ​ He also said he was disturbed by things Varnau has reportedly said. "She's made statements like 'If anybody touches the body, how do I go about filing charges on people'. When you have those type of statements and you can't agree on anything, it's not a good situation. We've had more problems in the past 30 days than we've had in the last 24 years with other coroners." ​ Wenninger said that after working with Varnau since she's taken office, he cannot go back to the way the sheriff's office operated with previous coroner Dr. Tim McKinley. He said his new policy of only assisting Varnau on homicide cases is firm and permanent. "I will not bend one bit. These type of people, if you bend a little bit to help them, they'll use it against you", Wenninger said. He added, "(Varnau and her husband Dennis) are just looking for any chance they have to get at me, and I'm not going to put my people at risk because they have a personal vendetta."
And that is what is causing all this. One man's childish vendetta because he can't get what he wants. Pathetic! And because she has earned the distrust of those who were willing to help in the past, she wants the taxpayers to pay for her seeking of vengeance and its repercussions. Dr. Varnau needs to be removed as coroner. She is a disgrace, a laughingstock, and a huge liability for the county. Bill Cornetet has an excellent editorial regarding this at the News Democrat, and letters have been coming in to both papers asking for Varnau to be removed.....