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Lawsuit: Walworth County sheriff's deputies used ‘excessive force’

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Jonah Beleckis
Thursday, November 16, 2017

ELKHORNA DeForest man is suing three Walworth County sheriff's deputies, saying they used excessive force when they slammed him onto a car and gave him a concussion in July 2015.

Alexei N. Strelchenko, 31, said the deputies used “excessive, unjustifiable and unnecessary force” or “intentionally failed to prevent said abuse” in the incident, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Oct. 17.

The defendants are Nicholas Yohanek, Brody Fiedler and Cody Schwartz. Walworth County is also listed as a defendant.

The lawsuit seeks actual or compensatory damages in addition to costs associated with the case.

The Walworth County Board Executive Committee on Monday went into closed session to discuss its legal strategy. The committee then approved a motion to proceed with that strategy, County Administrator and Corporation Counsel David Bretl said in an email.

The deputies, who still work for the sheriff's office, refuted Strelchenko's claims in a response filed Oct. 30.

On July 10, 2015, police and an assistant court clerk said Strelchenko was acting disorderly at the Walworth County Clerk of Courts Office in Elkhorn, according to police reports from the incident.

In his lawsuit, Strelchenko said he complained that office employees were withholding records in violation of Wisconsin's open records law.

Security was called, and deputies told Strelchenko it was 5 p.m. and the building was closing, according to the lawsuit. Strelchenko said the deputies told him he was not under arrest or being detained.

After exiting the building, Strelchenko told deputies he was in a public parking lot and was not required to leave, the lawsuit states. Yohanek started asking Strelchenko questions that Strelchenko refused to answer without a lawyer, the lawsuit states.

Yohanek then grabbed Strelchenko's right arm and with Schwartz and Fiedler “slammed” Strelchenko against a vehicle, which caused him to hit his head and suffer a concussion, according to the lawsuit.

Deputies then took Strelchenko to the Walworth County Jail, “where he was held without proper medical attention,” the lawsuit states.

After his release, Strelchenko went to an urgent care clinic and then was taken by ambulance to University Hospital in Madison, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

“When police officers violate the civil rights of those they are supposed to protect, it has significant adverse effects not only on the victims, but on the whole community,” Strelchenko's lawyer, John H. Bradley, said in an email.

The lawsuit lists three areas of concern: excessive force/failure to intervene, false arrest and detention, and an indemnification claim against Walworth County.

In their response, the deputies denied that they slammed Strelchenko against a vehicle and that he was taken to jail without proper medical attention.

Assistant Clerk of Courts Breanna Blink wrote that Strelchenko asked for a file that was in a judge's office and not available, so he was told to come back later. He eventually became loud and agitated, she wrote.

In his report, Yohanek wrote that Strelchenko would not give his name and was pulling his right arm in front of him while resisting deputies' efforts to stabilize him. Yohanek wrote this “inhibited” him from doing his job and that Strelchenko was “stabilized and handcuffed without further incident.”

Fiedler's report stated, “Deputy Schwartz and Yohanek stabilized the male against his vehicle while I cuffed him.”

The response maintains that the deputies acted properly.

“The defendants acted in good faith in accordance with established laws and administrative rules,” the response states.

The response calls for the dismissal of the lawsuit.

Yohanek has worked for the sheriff's office since May 2012 and makes $32.16 per hour. Fiedler has worked there since February 2015 and makes $29.30 an hour, and Schwartz has worked there since March 2013 and makes $32.16 an hour, according to Walworth County human resources officials.

In August 2015, the Walworth County District Attorney's Office charged Strelchenko with resisting an officer and disorderly conduct, but court records show those misdemeanors were dismissed.

The DA's office then prosecuted the two counts as ordinance violations—a move the lawsuit says stripped Strelchenko of his right to an attorney.

Strelchenko attended a jury trial without a lawyer and was acquitted on both counts, court records show.

A scheduling conference is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 7.



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