Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Mom to sue county, cops over son’s death

by Chris Schultz

December 27, 2012

An attorney representing Nancy Brown said the death of her son, John W. Brown, who was shot by a Walworth County deputy in May, will be going before a federal judge in March.

“We’ll be filing the lawsuit,” said Attorney Rebecca Williams of Romanucci & Blandin LLC, a Chicago law firm that specializes in personal injury and wrongful death.

She said the firm did its own investigation into John W. Brown’s death and determined there are grounds for filing claims of excessive force and wrongful death in federal court. Those claims will likely be filed in the federal courthouse in Milwaukee, Williams said.

She said the claims would be against the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office and the two officers involved in the call in which John Brown was shot and killed.

Nancy Brown told the Regional News in August that she did not accept the Walworth County District Attorney’s report dated July 2, that called the shooting “privileged and in the use of either self-defense or the defense of others.”

“It was murder,” Brown told the Regional News.

John W. Brown, 22, was shot and killed May 5 in his bedroom at the Browns’ home, 1463 Meadow Lane, in the Country Estates subdivision, town of Lyons. Police reports say Brown lunged at Deputy Wayne Blanchard with a knife. Blanchard fired the fatal shots.

Nancy Brown called the sheriff’s department at 12:02 a.m. May 5, worried because her son was drunk and he was cutting himself with a knife.

Brown told the Regional News she was upset by implications that the shooting was somehow suicide by cop.

Despite his dark mood and cutting himself, Brown said she doesn’t believe that her son was trying to kill himself.

“He sat at his desk for two hours,” Brown said of those dark hours between May 4 and 5. “If he had wanted to commit suicide, he would have done it.”

Brown said she went to her son’s room and found him sitting at his computer.

He was drunk, and was cutting himself with the blade of his folding knife. Brown said her son had a history of cutting himself.

“I tried prying the knife out of his hand,” Brown told the Regional News. “He didn’t try to hurt me.”

He didn’t give up the knife, either.

Brown said she had called the sheriff’s department for help with her son three times before.

“They consoled him. They calmed him down,” Brown said.

But the two deputies who responded to her call in the early-morning hours of May 5 had never been to her home before, she said. Brown admitted that her son had been drinking.

Toxicology showed John had 0.185 percent alcohol in his blood at the time of his death. Wisconsin’s legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.08.

She also said she did not see the shooting. She was in the living room when the shots were fired.

Deputies Blanchard and Chris Such arrived at 12:10 a.m. They talked with Nancy Brown. Blanchard went to the bedroom door while Such went outside to Brown’s bedroom window.

Nancy Brown offered Blanchard the key to her son’s room, but Blanchard decided to kick the door in.

Blanchard kicked open the door and saw Brown inside, but Brown slammed the door shut.

Such came back into the mobile home, holstered his service weapon and drew his Taser.

Blanchard opened the door a second time and ordered Brown to drop the knife.

In his report on the shooting, then-District Attorney Phil Koss wrote that the deputies reported that Brown approached Blanchard with the knife, “moving in an upright position.” Both deputies described Brown having a “1,000-yard stare” as he approached them.

Brown got to within 5 or 6 feet of Blanchard before the deputy fired twice. Brown was hit twice and mortally wounded.

According to the DA’s report, the knife Brown was holding when he allegedly lunged at the officers was described as a SWAT knife.

Brown said the knife was a simple Snap-on Tools folding knife. She showed what she said was a smaller version. The knife is basically a blade that folds out of a black plastic handle. She said John’s knife had a three-inch blade.

SWAT knife appears to be a brand name used by Smith & Wesson. A check of the company’s website shows that the SWAT knives are also folding knives that look similar to those sold by Snap-on as “lock liner” knives.

According to Koss, in dealing with other cases, being within 21 feet of a person armed with a knife was considered being in “the danger zone.”

“I believe that there is no other reasonable conclusion other than deputy Blanchard was attempting to prevent himself or deputy Such from being attacked with deadly force,” Koss wrote.