Police Failures in Sheridan "Spit Mask" Case 'Critical', DA Says


No Charges Filed; Notice Of Claim Seeks $300K

By Ed Zagorski, Greater Milwaukee Today

PORT WASHINGTON, Wisc. -- There will be no criminal charges against the Mequon police officer who placed a biohazard hood on Matthew Sheridan, causing the 20-year-old man to suffocate and die in custody June 19, Ozaukee County District Attorney Sandy Williams said Thursday.

Williams said "criminal prosecution against Gregory Klobukowski is not warranted."

Klobukowski, who, according to earlier investigations, thought he was placing a spit mask on Sheridan, was actually placing a Survivair Quick2000 Escape Hood Respirator on the Mequon man. The officer put the biohazard hood on Sheridan after he was taken into custody and became belligerent and started spitting on officers.

Klobukowski had no training in the use of the Survivair Quick2000 Escape Hood Respirator, which is designed to filter potentially contaminated air in the event of a nuclear, chemical or a biological attack.

In her decision released Thursday, Williams said, "Please do not conclude that by this decision I am endorsing the actions or behavior of the parties. The victim´s demise resulted from an accumulation of critical errors." She called them "critical lapses," which include:

  • Failure to properly train a police officer in the use of equipment.

  • Failure to recognize that an officer was absent from such training and reschedule it.

  • Equipping such an officer with equipment the officer was not trained to use.

  • Improperly placing the hood in the restraint box of the squad car.

  • Lack of uniformity of devices among law enforcement such that none of the four other officers at the scene recognized the hood used because they all use different variations of the same device. Such lack of awareness made it unlikely that any officer trained in similar equipment would recognize and correct the improper utilization of this device.

  • Improper application and use of the hood on a prisoner
  • Williams said the "accumulation of errors contributed in causing the death of Matthew Sheridan, but there is no evidence to sustain a criminal charge."

    She said she agreed with the coroner´s determination, the sheriff´s department´s conclusion and the inquest jury´s verdict that Sheridan death was an accident.

    Williams said she made her decision after reviewing the police reports, personally interviewing all the witnesses, considering the advisory verdict of an inquest jury and reviewing the inquest´s transcripts.

    Sheridan´s family requested the inquest. The six-person inquest determined Sept. 21 there was no basis for bringing reckless homicide charges against Klobukowski. The officer was placed on administrative leave with pay after the incident.

    Mequon police chief Doyle Barker said Klobukowski returned to work on Sept. 29 and is assigned to light duty, which Barker explains as various office functions.

    "He will remain in that status pending a complete review of the entire situation," Barker said.

    Ric Domnitz, the attorney who is representing the Sheridan family and the estate, said Friday he agreed with what Williams had to say against the police, but disagreed with her conclusion.

    "I thought she was right on the money when she named what the officers did wrong," Domnitz said.

    He said he served his notices of claim an hour before he received Williams´ decision.

    "My notices of claim and her decision were almost identical - almost identical in the criticism against the police," Domnitz said. "She is a fair-minded person who understands that there were some horrendous mistakes made by the police and they have to be held responsible for their actions."

    Domnitz said he served four separate notices of claim - to Mequon for $300,000 and Fox Point, Bayside and River Hills for $150,000 from each community. He said the amount of money represents the statutory maximums. The notices are precusors to filing a lawsuit.

    He said the family has been considering a lawsuit since the incident. He said a wrongful death suit could be filed under state statutes, as a federal rights violation or possibly a combination of the two. When asked to explain, he said if a negligence case was pursued under state statues there would be municipal caps on the financial award. In a federal case, there are no caps.

    "To me it´s not about the money," he said. "It´s calling out the police on what they did wrong. To me the money is not the issue. The issue is preserving the Sheridans´ right to bring suit against the police officers from all four municipalities and/or Mequon separately."

    Mequon City Administrator Lee Szymborski said in an e-mailed statement Thursday that the city received the notice of injury filed on behalf of John and Christine Sheridan concerning the death of their son. He said the city also learned Thursday the Ozaukee County District Attorney ruled that criminal charges against Klobukowski are not warranted.

    "The city recognizes that with these two circumstances, one phase of this tragedy closes while another phase opens," Szymborski said. "The city acknowledges that this situation has been a terrible tragedy for the Sheridan family and the entire community. We will seriously and closely review the claim filed by the Sheridan family. As well, we take seriously the District Attorney´s opinion. At this time, however, it would be premature to comment on any of the specifics mentioned in the claim. Our next step includes reviewing the claim with the city´s insurance carrier and legal counsel."

    He said the Mequon Police Department is "diligently" continuing with its internal investigation, and is conducting a "complete and detailed inquiry into every aspect of this situation."

    "The decision was entirely appropriate. This was never a criminal case," said Michael F. Hart, Klobukowski´s attorney. "He is slowly regaining his edge. He is back to work. He is a cop. He is a police officer and that is what he will continue to do."

    Associated Press
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