Contradictory accounts and an investigation that critics say lacks transparency have marred the case in the 12 days since Goodson's death. There is no body-camera footage, and officials have not explained how or why Deputy Jason Meade confronted Goodson in the first place; Goodson was not suspected of a crime before the shooting.
Meade has been placed on paid administrative leave while police investigate the incident.
Some residents have expressed frustration over minimal transparency in the investigation that has followed, criticism that is reminiscent of the widespread racial justice demonstrations that brought residents in dozens of American cities into the streets over the summer, including in Columbus.
Despite those months of protest, activists say little has changed in Columbus.
U.S. Marshal Peter Tobin, who oversees the joint task force with which Meade had just completed an operation before the shooting, quickly called the shooting "justified," a statement he later retracted as "based on insufficient information."
Columbus resident Kurt Looper, 64, who lives blocks from the home where Goodson was killed, said the shooting is a sign of a persistent problem with law enforcement nationwide.
"It doesn't make a difference when you are a Black man. They will follow you wherever they want to follow you and shoot wherever you are, and then find a way to make it seem justified," Looper said. "I think we're coming to the realization that there is very little accountability with law enforcement any and everywhere. It's just unfortunate that we are the capital city, and we still can't even get a grip on this."
Residents say they are angry not just about the manner of Goodson's death, but also about the subsequent investigation, in which local law enforcement opted to investigate, rather than outsource the probe.
In June, as racial justice demonstrations exploded downtown, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther (D) signed an executive order requiring police shootings to be investigated by the state attorney general's Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The goal was "to provide an additional layer of independence to build trust with the community," said Ginther's spokeswoman Robin Davis.
But the order did not extend to the county sheriff's office, she said. As a result, the sheriff's office did not immediately request the attorney general's help, instead turning to the Columbus Division of Police, whose Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) is now overseeing the investigation.
Activists are skeptical about how independent that investigation can be. The sheriff's office and Columbus police communicate and cooperate regularly, and they work out of a common command center downtown, local officials say. Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin was a 31-year member of the Columbus police, and his son is an officer in the Columbus police department, according to the sheriff's website.
Tobin — the federal official overseeing the criminal fugitive task force that Meade was working with minutes before he shot Goodson — was a longtime veteran of the Columbus Police Department, too. During his 24 years with the Columbus police, Tobin also "cofounded the Columbus Police Officer Support Team which assists officers involved in police involved shootings and other traumatic incidents," according to the U.S. Marshals Service website.
Three days into the police department's investigation, the police chief called Ohio Attorney General David Yost (R) and asked his office to take over, Yost said. Yost said he later learned that the request came at the suggestion of Ginther, "who is concerned that the investigation be seen to be sufficiently distant from Franklin County."
Yost declined. "The reason we were unwilling to take it is there's no crime scene anymore. It's been investigated, photographed, collected, processed. It's done and gone," he said.
Yost said state leaders have been pushing law enforcement departments to avoid "do-it-yourself" investigations, but there are no set rules about who investigates when a local law enforcement agency kills someone. Agencies can request that the investigation be carried out by a sister agency within their own or an overlapping jurisdiction.
That's provided little consolation to Columbus residents calling for a fair investigation into Goodson's death. The Goodson family's attorneys and local activists spoke of a long history of questionable police conduct in Columbus.
Investigators from the Justice Department have launched a concurrent investigation into whether Goodson's civil rights were violated. The presence of federal investigators has bolstered the Goodson family's faith in the investigation's integrity, said family attorney Sean Walton, noting that family members and the attorneys met with Justice Department investigators and Columbus police on Friday.
Columbus residents' emotions are still raw from the killings of 13-year-old Tyre King and 23-year-old Henry Green in 2016, also at the hands of police — neither of which led to an indictment, said Scott Woods, 49, a local activist.
"There's nothing that a law enforcement official can do that would appear to garner any reasonable punishment, up to and including murder," Woods said. "It's as if they are untouchable. They can do anything, and it doesn't matter how much we protest."
A spokeswoman for the sheriff said, "The Franklin County Sheriff's Office supports a fully independent and transparent investigation" of Goodson's case, and provided a copy of a statement released by Meade's attorney.
Meade was heading back to his office in an unmarked vehicle belonging to the Marshals Service, when he encountered Goodson, according to his attorney, Mark C. Collins. Collins declined to provide details about how the encounter started and escalated but said Goodson ignored commands to drop a gun. The Columbus Police Department’s Critical Incident Response Team has said that a gun was found at the scene of the shooting and that Goodson is a licensed gun owner with a concealed-carry permit.
In a 911 call, a neighbor described hearing "four shots." There are no known witnesses to the shooting, officials and attorneys say. Calls to 911 by Goodson's grandmother and cousin suggest that at least two law enforcement officers quickly rushed into the house and kept them at a distance from Goodson's body.
Davis, the mayor's spokeswoman, said police are investigating reports of a verbal altercation before the shooting. Sarah Gelsomino, the family attorney, said they heard no yelling or other commotion before the gunshots.
"They saw Casey on the floor and Meade in the doorway yelling at them and pointing a gun at them," Gelsomino said.
In her 911 call, Goodson's grandmother, Sharon Payne, said: "My grandson just got shot in the back when he come in the house. … I don't know if he's okay."
Officers quickly ordered relatives away from the scene, she said, leaving them unable to get a good look at the man's injuries or render assistance.
"They were threatening everybody in the house," Payne told the dispatcher. When the dispatcher asks a minute into the call whether Goodson is breathing, Payne said: "I don't know. They won't let me in the kitchen."
Goodson's cousin, who was also at the scene, told another dispatcher, "I don't know if they really are police for real. … They won't let us walk over there."
The summer of racial reckoning following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the spring has brought a higher level of scrutiny to the conduct of municipal police forces toward Black Americans. Various cities and counties across the country have passed bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Some have sought to redirect police funding.
John O'Grady, who sits on the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, said all three commissioners have agreed to deliver on body cameras that Baldwin requested this summer, but they are in the final stages of figuring out funding.
Some officials and activists say the heightened scrutiny given to such shootings is positive and helps ensure accountability. Others say it is a double-edged sword.
"I think there are certainly a lot of public officials that are going to be scrutinizing the investigation," O'Grady said. "The folks who are involved in the investigation need to figure out how to walk the line between not hampering their investigation, yet at the same time understanding the public's right and desire to know."
Yost said his office has been wrestling with the same question and is working on a proposal to present to the state legislature in 2021 that he hopes will standardize and streamline the way information comes out during a police shooting investigation, giving the process greater credibility.
"My feeling is we don't give people enough information when we have it, but we give too much information too quickly," he said. For example, releasing body-camera footage at the outset of an investigation without putting it in the context of other evidence can lead to inaccurate conclusions, Yost said.
Nana Watson, president of the NAACP's Columbus branch, said activists for now are prepared to wait calmly for the investigation to play out and for details of the autopsy, which officials said could take up to 14 weeks to complete. She added, "This community will not be satisfied if no charges are brought against Deputy Meade."
On Saturday, peaceful demonstrators marched through downtown Columbus, holding pictures of Goodson and "Black Lives Matter" signs. Some displayed pictures of Meade and the word "Wanted."
"We want the truth about Casey Goodson Jr.," local pastor Mike Young told the crowd. "This was a good man. This man was not a threat to society."
Melissa St. Clair, a Columbus City Schools teacher and Goodson's former sixth-grade teacher, recounted memories of Goodson to the crowd, including the times he reached out to her after the murder of her son — years after he had been in her classroom. He reached out again as she was recovering from a car accident.
"Casey Goodson was a good man. He couldn't hurt nobody," St. Clair said. When she heard about how he had died, "I knew instantly in my soul, they got this one wrong."
Mark Berman and Julie Tate contributed to this report.