Civil verdict clears Clare officers of wrongdoing in Scozzari shooting

July 14, 2012

No money awarded

Four years after a lawsuit was filed against the City of Clare and Police Chief Dwayne Miedzianowski and Officer Jeremy McGraw for the 2007 shooting of 51-year-old William Scozzari, a federal civil jury returned a unanimous verdict that found no fault with the officers’ actions.

No monetary damages were awarded to the Scozzari family.

Clare City Treasurer Steven Kingsbury said Tuesday that he was relieved that it was finally over. “We are saddened by the loss of William Scozzari and wish that the hands of time could be turned back and that this tragedy could be removed from history,” he said. “Though the hurt and the sadness will never fade, particularly for the family as well as the officers involved, we hope that everyone will be able to find peace within their hearts and can move forward. We are also once again assured that our legal system has been allowed to complete its solemn responsibility and that the facts having been reviewed and carefully considered by a qualified jury have returned a unanimous decision exonerating Chief Miedzianowski and Officer McGraw from all civil suit assertions against them.”

Scozzari died nearly five years ago, after he was shot during an altercation with the Clare officers on September 18, 2007 when they attempted to arrest him at the Lone Pine Motel in Clare. Miedzianowski reported responding to a report of shots fired near Shamrock Park that night and observed Scozzari walking in the area. The Police Chief said in an earlier interview that Scozzari ignored his orders to stop and responded with profanity. After following the man to the Lone Pine, Officer McGraw arrived as backup. When they confronted Scozzari in his cabin, the officers said he threatened them with a hatchet and a knife, prompting the shooting.

Scozzari was hit by five bullets from McGraw’s gun and died at the scene.

The court documents described Scozzari as 5 foot 3 inches, 133 pounds, partially blind, hard of hearing and reportedly schizophrenic. William Scozzari had lived at the Lone Pine for several years, moving there from a group home that had closed. His family does not live in the area.

In 2008, State Police investigating the shooting and former Clare County Prosecutor Norm Gage ruled that the shooting was justified because the officers had tried and were unable to subdue Scozzari with pepper spray and a Taser.

After the two officers were cleared of wrongdoing in Scozzari’s death, Steven Scozzari of Lake Orion , brother of the Clare man, filed a civil suit in March 2008 against the officers, City Manager Ken Hibl and the City of Clare, charging the use of excessive force, deliberate indifference to Scozzari’s medical issues immediately after the shooting, assault and battery, gross negligence, municipal liability, conspiracy to violate Scozzari’s civil rights and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Later most of the charges against the City were dropped except for the claim that the officers were not properly trained to handle a handicapped suspect.

Current Clare County Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis upheld the 2008 determination in late June that the officers were justified, after reopening the investigation as part of the civil trial.

The civil trial began June 19 and concluded last Friday, when the federal jury returned the unanimous verdict exonerating the officers.

Two witnesses, who claimed they were never interviewed by police and who were found by the former Clare Sentinel in January, had claimed that the officers shot an unarmed William Scozzari and placed weapons near and on the body after the shooting. Other witnesses at the motel upheld the officer’s statements that Scozzari was armed and threatening the officers.

In her report, Ambrozaitis said because of the new witnesses, the Michigan State Police had requested that she review the new information to determine if it would change the previous determination of justifiable homicide.

She said, “There are many inconsistencies within the statements provided by Hazel Duke and Noelle Hite [the two new witnesses] and their statements are also inconsistent with one another. Their statements are also inconsistent with information provided by other witnesses who were present and interviewed at the scene.”

The women had agreed to be interviewed at their current residence in Oregon on the condition that they would not be extradited to Michigan where Duke is named in three outstanding warrants and has a criminal record.

City Manager Ken Hibl was out of the office and unavailable for comment this week. Miedzianowski also could not be reached for comment on the civil trial results.

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