Family sues Brown County Coroner Judith Varnau in death investigation

Varnau accused of abusing human remains

GEORGETOWN, Ohio -- A lawsuit filed Monday accuses Brown County Coroner Dr. Judith Varnau of abusing human remains and improperly handling a death investigation.

The lawsuit stems from the death of Hanson E. Jones Jr., who died in his home on Aug. 7 from a gunshot wound to the head.

Jones’ sister Donna Elfers and his daughter Angela Brown filed the suit Monday, claiming Varnau failed to coordinate with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office when she took charge of Jones’ death scene.

Elfers and Brown also accuse Varnau of not completing a “meaningful investigation” and abandoning several large pieces of Jones’ skull scattered throughout his home.

“This family will never know if Hanson Jones was murdered or committed suicide,” attorney Al Gerhardstein said. “They do know that his remains were disrespected.”

According to the lawsuit, the home was left unlocked when Varnau allegedly abandoned a shotgun believed to be used in Jones’ death, several shotgun shells, gloves, toe tags and other items.

Elfers arrived at her bother’s home in shock and found the items, the lawsuit states.

When she asked Varnau what to do with her brother’s skull pieces, Elfers was told to bury them under a tree, the lawsuit states.

Gerhardstein, who represents Elfers and Brown, said Varnau’s actions stem from a political feud with the Brown County Sheriff's Office.

“We hope through this case to encourage the coroner to stop using Brown County deaths as a pawn in her political feud with the sheriff,” Gerhardstein said. “Brown County residents deserve fair and thorough death scene investigations and deserve to have their deceased loved ones treated with dignity and respect.”

Varnau told WCPO Monday that she wasn’t aware of the lawsuit.

“I know nothing of it being filed,” she said. “I have not been served with it.”

She also said the sheriff’s office was with her for the death scene investigation.

“The part about not coordinating is very much not accurate because they were there when I got to the scene,” Varnau said. “I am trying to work with (the sheriff’s office). I am really trying to work with them.”

In December of 2013, Varnau accused members of the sheriff's office of strangling an inmate at the Brown County Adult Detention Center and covering it up.

Zachary Goldson, 24, was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell on Oct. 5, nine days after his arrest on Sept. 26.

After Varnau ruled the death a homicide, Chief Deputy J.K. Schadle called her findings “political.”

Elfers and Brown are seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees in their suit against Varnau.

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