hearts and minds

August 6, 2006

Examining an Inquest

Filed under: Courts and Justice,police and the people,Race hate crime,War on Drugs — Hearts & Minds @ 3:59 pm

I attended the entire day and a half long inquest into the death in police custody of 20-year-old Mequon resident Matthew Sheridan, and was perhaps the only person who did so who was neither a friend or family member, nor a police officer, nor paid or required to be there. I was the ‘public’ referred to in the term ‘public inquest’. I heard the evidence presented to the jury, and I had never met any of the people who caused or were affected by this tragedy. But I was not a disinterested observer. Two months ago I had written in this column about Matthew’s demise. Because of that involvement, I am compelled to comment on the inquest.

The evidence was presented in a biased, not an impartial manner. The only witnesses called to testify were police officers, and the coroner who prematurely ruled the death an accident, rather than calling for an inquest. There was no other witness called. Witnesses were questioned by the district attorney, who displayed explicit bias favorable to police conduct. Who inquired in defense of the rights of the deceased and the others falsely suspected and detained in the incident? Not the district attorney. There was no cross-examination of witnesses. D.A. Sandy Williams repeatedly and incorrectly referred to the vinyl bag pulled over Sheridan’s head as a “spit bag”. This repeated ‘error’ had the obvious effect of planting confusion in the minds of jurors. Her introductory comments, the line of questioning, and the summation to the jury could not have been a more effective or clever defense of police conduct than that of a private attorney retained specifically for that purpose.

The testimony repeatedly stated and reinforced a few talking points. It seemed to be orchestrated. I did not, therefore, find it convincing. However, I did find Officer Klobukowski’s testimony convincing, and in that I agree with the jury’s finding that he had not knowingly and recklessly caused Matthew’s death. I believe that Officer Klobukowski is one of the victims suffering because of this tragedy. Absent evidence to the contrary, we should all encourage Officer Klobukowski to continue as a police officer in Ozaukee County, and let him know that our sympathy and best wishes are with him. I think he is a decent and good cop, and one of whom we will, eventually, be justly proud, and especially fortunate to be served by in his future career. This I, and others, learned at the inquest.

There were other things I learned. You’ve read and heard reports that Matthew was spitting. But the testimony at the inquest made clear that Matthew was very roughly “escorted” to the ground, hands already cuffed behind his back, by five officers who kneeled on his back and bound his ankles, with one officer holding his head and forcing his face in the filthy dirt by the side of the road. Matthew did not spit in anger or contempt, or at anybody. He was clearing the dirt and filth from his mouth the only way he could when the five officers picked him off the ground, bound hand and foot. That was when the bag that asphyxiated him was pulled over his head and he was strapped, completely immobilized, into the back of the squad car.

One thing we did not learn at the inquest, is that the original complaint about driving away without paying for ten dollars worth of gas was completely false. Another thing we did not learn at the inquest was why so many squads from 4 police departments were on the scene and investigating this minor and false allegation from someone at a convenience store. If you forgot and drove off without paying for gas, would you expect to be pulled over, surrounded by multiple squad cars, searched, arrested and handcuffed? If you were suspected of having done such a thing, and the suspicion was false and you had not driven off without paying for gas, wouldn’t you object to such treatment by police, and even become indignant if your objection was unheeded? I doubt that Matthew was as “psychotic, uncooperative, irrational, obscene, combative” as the inquest testimony and the uncritical reports in the media had portrayed him. Matthew, being white and from Mequon, probably thought, despite being young and riding in a car with several persons whose skin complexion was not usually seen in lily white Ozaukee County, that he actually had rights that everyone, including the police, were bound to respect.

While focusing on the minutiae of the incident, I observed the sorrow in the eyes and the heart of the mother who had carried and birthed him, and who had nurtured his unique path and struggle to attain manhood. She attended the entire inquest, and heard her son slandered by the one-sided testimony while she was in the depth of her grief. I never knew Matthew, but he was much like a lot of us who were, unlike him, fortunate enough to have survived our own youth and foolishness.

If Matthew wasn’t nearly as bad as they said, and if Officer Klobukowski is a good cop, as I believe he is, why did it happen, and where is the fault? The Jury may have been right to exonerate Klobukowski, but it was remiss in not ascribing substantive responsibility for the negligent homicide of Matthew Sheridan to the management of the several police departments involved. They are responsible for the deficiencies in supervision and training and oversight and cultural competency that resulted in the violation of Matthew’s right to life. Who will take all necessary steps to insure that such official disregard of human and civil rights will never again occur here?

September 30, 2004 (See “R.I.P. Matthew Sheridan” for part 1 of 2)

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10 Comments »

  1. Matt was one of my best friends. He was going to go to jail before all this shit happened, and he knew that and accepted it. He told me online (I was born and raised in WI; I now live in Florida) that he was actually looking forward to bettering himself in jail and reading the bible and starting to cleanse his soul and start fresh in a sense. I’ve never had to be living my daily life knowing I was about to do some time in the pen but I can imagine such is very stressful, and that it helped Matt’s poor decisions in choosing whom he was hanging out with and what he was doing in the weeks before his demise. I knew the real Matt, who wasn’t a hardened criminal like the articles I have read seemingly made him out to be at times. He was a good guy, hilarious to boot, and although I thought he took rap too seriously at times he was a smart kid, and to hear from a mutual friend of ours one day after I just talked to him the previous afternoon about trying to keep his head up and start becoming honest again that he was killed by a fucking tool of the government just doesn’t sit well. It doesn’t matter, they have the most weapons, and the most money. They have the better connections. Matt’s death although observed by some for what it is a sick senseless case of police brutality and abuse of power it will eventually just be swept under the rug as more of these cases happen and join it under the rug because dollars are worth more than life in this cesspool country.

    Comment by Ryan — November 28, 2006 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

  2. I didn’t know Matthew, but my brother did. I knew Officer Klobukowski. He and I on a few occasions had the time to talk about our lives and our loves. His was his wife and his children. He was not a vile person who purposely did this thing to Matt. I am sorry for Matt, sorry that Greg didn’t have proper training. If it weren’t for the improper training, or lack of training, this terrible death would never have occured

    Comment by Amanda — February 21, 2008 @ 8:58 am | Reply

  3. You guys are all biased because you think all these cops are out to get you the government is out to get you. FALSE. This was a huge error and it shouldnt have happened but it wasnt murder. Do not place this slander into the internet. The police force in America is among the best in the entire world.

    Comment by biil — May 21, 2009 @ 11:29 pm | Reply

    • The preceding comment (from someone calling him or herself “bill”) was sent anonymously from an invalid email address.

      Comment by clydewinter — September 12, 2009 @ 2:59 am | Reply

  4. I knew Matt on so many levels. More than most people ever have seen. He was caring, funny, into music more than anyone i have ever known.He loved to shoot hoops and just talk i would only do it just for him i really never liked it but some how he made it fun. His love for Rap was rediculas, even just music that guy new everything. He lived with his father who i know loved him more than ever. And for some reason always bailed him out. Matt and i used to talk about how much he wanted to change his life that once he did his time he was going to be a better person. I was finishing highschool and and moving to minnesota for college and he used to beg me to take him. that he would be a better person he promised. The morning of June 19,2004 he called and begged me to come pick him up. he didn’t want to be at his sisters graduation party all day and it was my graduation party that same day and he just needed to get away but i just didn’t have time to go get him and do everthing that i still needed to. I talked to him multiple times that day and we made plans to do somehting the next day. I never heard form him again. Then i got a call at 7 am monday morning and was told what happened and i just didn’t believe it i called his phone like 10 times hopeing he would pick up. It never happened. the funeral came and i went and cried the second i saw his mom and dad. Then him and after knowing him for over a year i met his sister for the first time and she knew exacty who i was from his stories. when i started to hear all the things in the papers it made me angry b/c i knew him on a totally differant level. He really wasn’t a bad person at all, he just fell into the wrong crowd and didn’t know how to really get out. He kept trying, just never quite made it out.If i could get ahold of his computer there would probably be a whole book worth of songs he wrote and poems. He was truely an amazing person and he was realy smart, some times i wish i would have just went to pick him up but some times i think what happened was gods intention. We can’t change that. The only thing that i wish would have changed is the training of a under trained cop and really how hard is it to mistake one thing that is plastic for another one is like a net. HOW!!!! He took peoples best friend, their partner in crime some ones son, brother, grandson. Someone so amazingly talented, silly , and special. The man that did that walks free today maybe not mentally but he has his freedom and all we have are memories, anger, regret. To me this doesn’t seem fair. unfortunetly we have to live with it. Let me tell you it isn’t easy even almost 6 years later. Nothing will ever change but all is left is love for him and the memories that we shared. The one positive is the mequon police i hope have beed better trained due to what happened to matt.

    Comment by Alecia — April 8, 2010 @ 2:19 am | Reply

  5. I barely knew matt, but I found myself in a class with him 12 years ago at homestead and in mixed company at a few small parties. I remember hearing about his death on the news on a break from college. What this blog post doesn’t really exhaust is the point that these masks were post-9/11 tools for terrorist attacks. As a mequon transplant to nyc, I am afraid this accidental’ death of a peer and those of others, god forbid, that faced the same treatment from , will go unmemorialized and forgotten in the commemorations that will happen in sept 2011.

    Comment by Edward — July 29, 2011 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks for the info Bro. I remember hearing about this case a few years back but never knew the depth of the story. I still don’t, but now a heck of a lot more. It is just absolutely heart wrenching and mind numbing, every time you see these things happening!!!

    Comment by M I — March 13, 2014 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  7. You sir, seem very intelligent, and well rounded. I say that out of respect for you as a human, a writer, and a veteran. You are however, just as ignorant and repulsive as Officer Klobukowski. His personal life and tragedies, however saddening they are, do not excuse him for his part and major role in the death of Matthew. My eight year old can explain in detail the dangers of placing a bag over ones face. My eight year old can also tell you that when a 20 year old person, without regard to race, cries out to police officer for help, they should get help. What did Matthew get, “If you can’t breath, you can’t talk son.” The family of Matthew, himself included, had repeated cases of police abuse, harassment, and misconduct prior to the incident that cost Matthew his life.

    Comment by Stuart — December 15, 2014 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

    • I have to agree, Stuart, with your criticism of the statements I made in the third paragraph and in the concluding paragraph of my essay, “Examining an Inquest”. They were based on nothing more than wishful thinking on my part regarding the character and the future of that particular officer. They were also based on a further belief of mine that while each person should certainly be held culpable for his own actions, it is not right to do no more than to blame (or, as is often the case, exonerate) a convenient scapegoat for a larger root of a very big systemic problem.

      On another point you raised, there is today (and there was in the tragic killing of Matthew Sheridan, and during the inquest that followed) a major technical fallacy about asphyxiation. Air is needed to breathe. And in order to talk, air needs to pass over the vocal chords. However, in order for life to continue, more is needed than merely for air to move past the vocal chords. Animal life needs OXYGEN. A person can (for a very short time) move air over his or her vocal chords sufficient to make sounds, and even words, despite the soon-to-be-fatal fact that there is inadequate OXYGEN entering the person’s lungs to support life. Air does not necessarily contain enough oxygen to support the life of the individual breathing it.

      It’s that simple. Under a great many circumstances, a person can talk for a short time, even though they are getting insufficient oxygen to support life. In fact, that is common and certainly not rare in cases of asphyxiation. It is actually very common that a person who is dying of asphyxiation will (for a short time before they lose consciousness and die) say, and repeat, those very words, “I can’t breathe!”. That itself is a universally known sign and symptom of respiratory distress and a lack of oxygen, and first responders must immediately take appropriate action – not talk nonsense to the victim, and then disregard the victim when the victim falls silent.

      The only time that a person whose life is threatened by asphyxiation can NOT speak is under the special circumstances when that person’s “windpipe” is completely blocked (or when they have no vocal chords, or when they are unconscious or paralyzed). It IS technically correct to assert that if a person’s airway is completely obstructed, then that person will be unable to speak. But it is absolutely false to assert that a person who is able to speak is, therefore, not threatened with immediate death by asphyxiation.

      When an impermeable plastic bag is placed over a bound and manacled person’s head and secured around their neck, their airway is not obstructed, and the person is of course, still able to make sounds and even speak. However, the small amount of air that is contained within that bag is quickly depleted of oxygen, while the concentration of carbon dioxide simultaneously increases. Depending on the size of the bag, in a short time, the victim loses consciousness and dies.

      Comment by clydewinter — December 15, 2014 @ 3:33 pm | Reply


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