Walworth County settles fatal shooting lawsuit for $1.1 million

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Jonah Beleckis
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

ELKHORN—A woman who son was shot and killed by a Walworth County sheriff's deputy in 2012 has settled her lawsuit against the county and deputy for $1.1 million.

Nancy Brown, mother of 22-year-old John Brown, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee in May 2013 alleging Deputy Wayne Blanchard used excessive force when he shot her son a year earlier at her town of Lyons home, according to court documents.

She had called police because her bipolar son was suicidal and had locked himself in his room with a knife, according to the complaint she filed.

The settlement, signed Jan. 23, brings the case to a close with the county and Blanchard denying any misconduct, according to a copy of the settlement document obtained by The Gazette.

The payment “is being made for the sole purpose of avoiding the substantial expense of further litigation,” the settlement states.

The settlement will be paid by the county's insurer, Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance, County Administrator Dave Bretl said Monday.

The shooting is among seven fatal shootings by law enforcement in Walworth County since 2010.

Attorneys for Blanchard filed a petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse lower courts' decisions not to dismiss the suit in December 2015. The high court denied review of the case in April 2016.

The case was then sent back to the U.S. District Court, where it was dismissed Feb. 7.

Nancy Brown will no longer be able to make a future claim for more money against “anyone in any way” relating to her son's death, according to the settlement.

The suit originally claimed Blanchard used excessive force when he shot John Brown twice after kicking down the door to his room with his gun drawn.

Accounts differed as to whether John Brown approached the deputies with his knife after they kicked down the door, according to court documents. Witness accounts also differed on whether Blanchard told Brown to drop the knife and when Brown encouraged deputies to shoot him.

Nancy Brown was on the couch in the living room when the shooting took place, and the deputies were in or near John Brown's bedroom, according to court documents.

The discrepancies were among the questions U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman said a jury would have to consider when he declined to dismiss Blanchard from the lawsuit, according to his written decision from July 2014.

Deputy Christopher Such, who was standing behind Blanchard armed with a Taser, was also listed on the suit and accused of not preventing the shooting. Adelman dismissed Such from the suit, however, because evidence did not prove he knew Blanchard would shoot, according to his written decision.

The county was included in the suit because Nancy Brown's attorneys argued the county failed to properly train the two deputies on use of force and how to respond to potentially suicidal subjects.

“This was an individual who was looking for help. It was a cry for help,” Antonio Romanucci, Nancy Brown's attorney, said Monday. “He should have been brought under control. He should have been brought to a hospital, brought to a doctor … This was a case on an emotional disturbance. Rather than being treated accordingly, he was treated with force, and he died unnecessarily.”

Adelman wrote in his decision that he could not find evidence the sheriff's office had conducted sufficient training in how to deal with suicidal subjects.

Don Poulson of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Walworth County disputed this, saying he had done programs and training on this subject in the county.

The county and Blanchard appealed Adelman's decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, but Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner affirmed Adelman's ruling in August 2015. Blanchard's lawyer then took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Phil Koss, the district attorney at the time of the shooting, said Blanchard's actions were justified as self-defense.

Romanucci said he and Brown were glad the legal matter was resolved.

“We're very pleased with the conclusion of this matter, and that we were able to avoid trial with a very substantial settlement," he said.

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