The simple but complex life of Casey Goodson

Family and friends remember the 23-year-old, who was shot and killed by Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Meade on Dec. 4

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Casey Goodson

In photographs, one of the first things you notice about Casey Goodson is the hair.

On those instances it wasn’t braided down or tucked beneath a motorcycle helmet, Goodson’s hair generally flowed wild and free, his long, untamed black curls operating as a billowing extension of his personality.

“His hair would bounce when he walked. And when he was mad, he’d walk fast, and his hair would bounce fast,” said Goodson’s mother, Tamala Payne. “He cut it a few times when he got tired of it, but the day he’d cut it he’d be like, ‘I’m about to let my hair grow back.’ He always kept his hair. He loved his hair. It was always wild and all over the place.”

In the months since Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Meade shot and killed 23-year-old Goodson on Dec. 4, Payne has regularly posted new photos of her son to Facebook and Instagram, determined to let the public see the varying facets of his personality rather than allowing law enforcement to shape a narrative around him. At the time Goodson was shot, he had just returned from the dentist. Meade claims he saw Goodson waving a gun as he drove by, and the deputy pursued him. Goodson, who was not the target of any investigation and has no criminal background, according to family attorney Sean Walton, was a licensed gun owner and Ohio is an open carry state. No camera footage of the subsequent exchange between the two exists. 

In interviews, eight of Goodson’s friends and relatives routinely referred to him as “a big kid,” sharing stories about how he would spontaneously break into dance, despite the fact he was, by all accounts, a terrible dancer. Goodson’s girlfriend, Niah Carter, described the high-pitched laugh he would uncork when he got rolling, which she said felt almost out-of-place coming from someone with such a deep speaking voice. “He was 23, but he acted like he was in an 8-year-old’s body,” said Goodson’s brother, Bredlen Harper.

The tall, lanky Goodson was also fiercely independent and didn’t worry about following along with convention, according to everyone interviewed. This was true whether it came to fashion trends — “He was the type to wear some high-water sweatpants, hair all bushy, and still feel as good about himself as if he was in a $500 pair of designer jeans,” said Payne — or social norms. Goodson’s sister, Kaylee Harper, recalled how Goodson used to go out of his way to walk to lunch with one girl whom other classmates at Beechcroft High School routinely mocked. “She said Casey was one of the only people who always made her feel normal,” Harper said. “He wasn’t going with the crowd. … If you went around him, he’d make sure you were in a good mood. He was a carefree, happy dude.”

“I’ve struggled with insecurity, and he would always tell me, ‘You’re beautiful. Don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. Just keep your head up and know I’m here for you,’” said childhood friend Leila West, who first met Goodson when the two were classmates at Medina Middle School.

Goodson could be quiet and moody, at times, particularly when angered, and he had a rebellious streak similar to that of his mom. He was also a great listener who regularly engaged in long conversations, and he possessed an admirable work ethic that girlfriend Carter traced in part to a difficult childhood. “Casey grew up different. … His dad was never really there, so he was independent from the start,” she said. “We both went through so much so young, but he never let it faze him. I’d reflect back on life a lot and he’d be like, ‘It’s OK. You’re strong, and you have to be positive. You’ll live a better life if you just look at things positively.’ … He was so complex, but he was simple at the same time.”

All of these dimensions and more surface in the photos and videos of Goodson posted to social media by his mother in recent months.

Casey Goodson as a young boy on Christmas morning

Here’s Goodson as a young boy on Christmas morning, no older than 4 or 5 years old, posing with a still-boxed toy motorcycle. As he entered into adulthood, motorcycles would escalate from a childhood fascination into an all-consuming hobby and source of escape. Carter said Goodson told her he appreciated the way the world would disappear as he rode. The narrow focus required to handle the machine forced all outside concerns to fall away.

Here’s Goodson with a snake curled around his neck, completely at ease, as he was with all animals. He got his first pet, a hamster named Cinnamon, in first grade, and later adopted everything from dogs to African frogs and snakes, which some traced to a natural caretaker instinct. 

Here’s Goodson on the beach in Florida, his arm around his grandmother, Sharon Payne, who helped raise Goodson alongside her late husband, Ernest Payne, and who made the initial 911 call after police shot her grandson outside of the family’s North Side residence.

Here’s Goodson smiling next to one of his younger brothers. The oldest of 10 children, Goodson served as both a father and a brother to his siblings well into young adulthood, which until recently made him resistant to having children of his own. “He wanted to do it right, because he knew he didn’t want to be what he had,” Carter said of Goodson’s desire to avoid retracing the same footsteps as his own absentee father.

And here’s Goodson behind the wheel of a car, which is where he found himself on an early December afternoon when he crossed paths with Meade, who, along with others in law enforcement, had just completed an unrelated search for a suspect in nearby Estate Place. After spotting Goodson, Meade entered into a pursuit that ended when he shot and killed the 23-year-old. Police said a weapon was recovered from Goodson after the shooting, though details have not been released as to whether it was drawn or was discovered later on his body.

While an official autopsy has not yet been released and the investigation remains ongoing, Tamala Payne and attorney Sean Walton recently went public with details they said were shared in a private Jan. 11 discussion with the Franklin County Coroner’s office, the Dispatch reported, during which they were told autopsy results showed that Goodson had been shot six times from behind with a high-powered rifle.

“I saw him [after he was shot], and I still wake up in the night crying. It’s something that will be with me the rest of my life,” said grandmother Sharon Payne, who has been staying with relatives in recent weeks as she recovers from a mild stroke. “And I know this might sound weird, but I want to go home. I know that’s where it happened, but that’s where his whole childhood was, where he grew up with me and my husband, and I just want to be there. I feel closer to him when I’m at home.”

Casey Goodson as a child

Goodson was born at Ohio State University Hospital on Jan. 30, 1997. “He was my first baby, and I was a baby when I had him,” said Payne, who was 16 at the time Goodson was born. “But I had a lot of help when I had him. I had a support system: my mom, my dad, my sister. But me and Casey, we grew up together. And as he was growing and learning, I was growing and learning.”

For Goodson, much of this learning tended to be self-driven, taking place outside of the classroom and often in the form of YouTube videos, which he would seek out on any subject that held even the slimmest interest. When it came to school, however, the slower pace of instruction often couldn’t hold his attention in the same way.

“He was smart, but school was boring to him,” said Leila West, who often spotted Goodson in class either doodling in his notebook or playing around with his cellphone. “He’d say, ‘There are other ways of being successful than being a straight-A student.'”

Goodson did enjoy math, though, which his mom attributed to a natural mind for business. In addition to maintaining a steady job from the age of 14, when he started working part-time at a reptile store, Goodson also brainstormed a series of ventures that included a car detailing service and a trucking company, which is what initially led him to obtain his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Most recently, girlfriend Carter said he’d talked about the potential of becoming a licensed firearm instructor. He wanted to purchase land outside of Columbus where he could start his own range and teach others about gun safety.

“He would always tell me, ‘I love being on the road, but I hate being alone,’” Carter said of the conversations the two would have when Goodson would drive cross-country for a trucking company, circumstances that led him to discuss potential careers that would enable him to remain closer to family year-round.

Casey Goodson with one of his nine siblings

From birth, Goodson lived with his grandparents, often shadowing his grandfather, an auto mechanic, as he tooled around with cars parked in the driveway, or working alongside his grandmother as she cooked in the kitchen. “He always wanted to be helpful,” said Sharon Payne, who described Goodson as “a homebody” who, while he enjoyed hanging out with friends, riding bikes and playing basketball, truly reveled in the time spent at home with family — one of several traits he shared with her late husband.

“Being a man’s man and a family protector and provider, along with [the interest in] cars, he picked that up from my dad,” Tamala Payne said. “His attitude, his stubbornness, his looks, his eagerness, he picked those up from me. Casey has parts of everybody that played a major role in his life.”

Goodson’s grandfather remained a key figure up until the elder’s 2018 illness and death at the age of 64, which those interviewed recalled as one of the only times they saw Goodson emotionally devastated for a prolonged stretch. Goodson passed out when doctors described a procedure his grandfather was set to undertake during one hospital visit, and Sharon Payne said at home in the final week before her husband’s death it wasn’t uncommon for her to walk past the bedroom only to find Goodson seated next to his grandfather, holding his hand. “That was the one time Casey couldn’t be the rock for the family,” Tamala Payne said. “My dad was Casey’s everything, so we knew we had to be Casey’s rock.”

In the immediate aftermath of his grandfather’s death, Goodson withdrew — “We all did,” Tamala Payne said — and in the ensuing weeks and months, his grandmother said that she noticed a subtle shift within Goodson in terms of how he related to the rest of the family. “Family was always important to him, but afterwards, with his siblings, he became closer to them, caring more about them, looking out for them, scolding them when they needed it,” she said.

“He always checks on me,” Kaylee Harper said. “There have been times I left the house and didn’t text him when I got home, and he’d be like, ‘Hello? Where you at?’ Or if I was supposed to have him pick me up, but I texted and said, ‘Never mind, I got a ride,’ he’d be like, ‘Are you sure? Do you trust him?’ I have messages and messages of him asking me, ‘Where are you? Are you OK? What are you doing?’ He was really protective.”

Casey Goodson with one of his pet snakes

According to Tamala Payne, Goodson’s interest in guns also developed around the time of her father’s death, which she traced in part to an increased pressure he felt to watch out for the family. “My dad didn’t use the gun, you never even saw the gun, but he had the gun to protect the family,” she said. “When my father died, Casey started getting more into guns, researching guns, getting his license. Driving trucks, he’d be out on the road alone, at truck stops. It was a protection thing.”

Goodson was acutely aware of the extra pressures that came with being both a licensed gun owner and a Black man, said childhood friend Vern Christian, otherwise known as the rapper OG Vern, who first met Goodson at Clinton Middle School and reconnected with him in more recent years after moving into Goodson’s North Side neighborhood. “He’d be over here telling me to carry safely, telling me about gun laws, telling me the warnings of being a Black man with a CCW (a Concealed Carry Weapons permit),” Christian said. “He talked to me multiple times on multiple occasions about guns, gun laws, and I’m not even a gun type of guy, but he was just passing that information along.”

Christian said he last spoke with Goodson in the summer of 2020, at the height of the most recent round of Black lives matter protests that sprung up in the city following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. “We got into a conversation about being Black in America,” he said. “And how, as a Black man, it’s super scary when we see a police officer, even if we have nothing to do with anything.”