Court of Appeals denies Clare Police immunity in Scozzari death

January 12, 2012

By Pat Maurer

Review Correspondent

A lawsuit against Clare Police officers and the City of Clare is still active after the majority of a three-judge panel for the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a District Court denial of immunity for Clare Police Chief Dwayne Miedzianowski and Officer Jeremy McGraw in connection with the 2007 shooting death of William Scozzari.

The decision was filed January 4.

Scozzari, 51, died September 18, 2007 at the Lone Pine Motel where he lived for about ten years. He was shot during an altercation with the Chief and an Officer.

On the night of September 18, 2007, Miedzianowski had responded to a report of shots fired near Shamrock Park when he saw William Scozzari walking in the area. According to the court documents, Miedzianowski said Scozzari ignored his orders to stop and responded with profanity. Miedzianowski followed the man to the Lone Pine Motel where Officer McGraw arrived as backup. When they confronted him, the officers said he came out of his cabin with a knife and a hatchet towards the officers compelling them to defend themselves.

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.

According to the court document, the officers believed Scozzari posed a threat, but the court opinion said, “The circumstances here present a genuine question whether the situation compelled a split-second decision to use lethal force.”

The court documents described William Scozzari as slight, 5 foot 3 inches, 133 pounds, partially blind, hard of hearing and “hardly intimidating.” He was reported as schizophrenic.

Witnesses also have cast doubt on whether Scozzari was armed and some suggested the weapons were placed by his body after he was shot.

The Appeals court declined to review additional claims filed in a separate action alleging Fourth Amendment rights violations including that Miedzianowski illegally detained William Scozzari, used unreasonable seizure when officers attempted to force their way into Scozzari’s cabin and used excessive force because of the use of pepper spray by the Chief.

In November, 2009 the defendants Miedzianowski and McGraw had asked U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington to rule in their favor without a trial. They moved for summary judgment on all claims against them. In April, 2010 The District Court granted the motion in part, denied it in part and held other issues in abeyance according to court documents.

Judge Ludington said the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity from Plaintiff’s constitutional claims, and ordered the parties to brief two new Forth Amendment claims, raised in response to the defendant’s motion. The court also granted summary judgment (dismissed) state-law gross negligence and civil conspiracy claims. Ludington said Steven Scozzari failed to show that the officers agreed to violate William Scozzari’s rights.

He ruled that Scozzari can pursue claims of excessive force because of conflicting witness testimony about the distance between McGraw and William Scozzari and whether McGraw flee to the ground and fired from there.

Ludington said Scozzari could also pursue the claim of indifference because of a delay in allowing crews to administer medical treatment after William Scozzari was shot.

The judge also absolved the city of the conspiracy claim and dismissed claims against Hibl.

Miedzianowski and McGraw filed an appeal of the District Court ruling.

The Appeals court agreed with the District Court ruling that Defendants Miedzianowski and McGraw could not assert governmental immunity from the Plaintiff’s common-law assault and battery claims, but ruled in their favor on the new Fourth Amendment claims.

The panel included Circuit Judges Helene N. White of Detroit, Circuit Judge David W. McKeague of Lansing and The Honorable Jack Zouhary of Toledo, Ohio, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation.

Two of the judges, White and Zouhary, upheld all parts of the denial for immunity.

The third judge, McKeague, disagreed with the others on whether medical treatment was unreasonably delayed after Scozzari was shot. White and Zouhary’s opinion said, “Slightly less than twelve minutes lapsed from the report of the shooting until Scozzari received medical attention.” It cited a two-minute delay caused when emergency crews were told to “stage” away from the scene.

McKeague wrote, “I cannot conclude, as the majority does, that the slight delay caused by the officers’ failure to secure the scene by the time paramedics arrived violated Scozzari’s clearly established constitutional rights.” The two minutes that elapsed between the time the ambulance arrived “on-scene” and when the paramedics were “at patient,” were a reasonable amount of time for the personnel to park, exit the vehicle and reach Scozzari with treatment. He said the “officers responded appropriately to Scozzari’s obvious need for medical attention by promptly calling for an ambulance.”

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9 Responses to Court of Appeals denies Clare Police immunity in Scozzari death

  1. drsuess

    January 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    I have read the Clare County Review for quite a while. I generally enjoy the information that I find in the paper. This article was quite informative, except for one small paragraph that was blatant crap and never should have been printed. “Witnesses also have cast doubt on whether Scozzari was armed and some suggested the weapons were placed by his body after he was shot.” I want to know where that information came from. What documents inferred that to be even partially true? I was there that night and I watched as all the events unfolded. The man did have the weapons described in the reports. I will not say I side with one side or the other, but to print that kind of contrived b.s. is something I would expect from the other local paper.

  2. bunnym

    February 6, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Drsuess you should stick with the children’s fiction books your more famous for. You really have to be kidding to doubt for one minute that a disabled handicap man who was blind in one eye and was at his own home minding his own business who did nothing thing wrong that night would do any thing to two officers, he wasn’t stupid he was HANDICAP. Get real… they came to him looking for trouble and brutally murdered an innocent man and you would doubt that they could place weapons by his body?? Your offensive to call reading the truth b.s. Is that article hitting a nerve or striking to close to home? “Oh what a tangled web they weave…”

  3. Sal

    February 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    So Dr Suess must be Chief Miedzianowski, because he was the only one that witnessed ALL the events unfold. If you are not the Chief or another officer, I am sure you gave your statement to the police that night or came forward as a witness? I can’t seem to find your statement in any of the paper work my family has gathered. So is what you said blatant crap? I want to know why the paper printed a letter to the editor that can only be either a lie or from the accused himself. Were you there to see the initial encounter between Miedzianowski and my brother? Were you with Miedzianowski when he got the call to respond to shots fired in the park? Perhaps you were a ride along that we don’t know about. Come clean Drsuees, did you really see ALL the events that night? The only way you could have is if you are Dwayne Miedzianowski. 5 people say Bill was not armed and only the two killers say he was.

  4. drsuess

    February 7, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    First off I will set one thing straight, I am not the chief, nor am I affiliated with law enforcement at all. I was there that night, I did watch all of the events unfold, and I did give both a statement to the police as well as a sworn deposition. I know who called central dispatch that night reporting shots fired in the park, I know what car the chief was driving that night, and I know, for a FACT, that the man had weapons in his hand when he was shot. I know this because I saw the events unfold. My questions to you Bunny are simple. Were you there? Did you see the events? If not don’t presume that the police just showed up and started shooting. That would be completely incorrect. Sal, I am sorry for your family’s loss. The loss of a human life is a tragedy. However, you may want to read through your statements again. Lastly, as to the two witnesses that came forward, I hope they were paid well for their lies. From where they were admittedly standing it would be virtually impossible for their statements to be truthful and accurate.

  5. bunnym

    February 8, 2012 at 2:45 am

    Well, drsuess if that innocent, handicap man did have anything in his hand it was certainly placed there by said officers, your by far the only one who claims to have seen different. The mind is a powerful thing, you can imagine all you want, just like they must have imagined he was 10 feet tall and weighed 400 lbs by the brutality of his murder. I gotta ask myself why you are so concerned with this case; that of the brutal murder of an innocent man?? Perhaps if a family member of yours was brutally murdered at their own home, one who committed no crime you might have a different perspective of this entire matter. This case shouldn’t be any of your concern, but you feel compelled to watch it closely..makes me wonder?? What part don’t you get… an innocent, small, handicap man, blind in one eye was at his own home minding his own business, they came to him, no crime was committed in Clare that night except for his brutal murder…over kill is putting it mildly. I’m sure you did give a statement that night after they planted the said “evidence” and then paraded people around to come and look. You should be thanking the family for getting to the truth of the matter or they could be coming to your door next. Your not fooling anyone, your in the mix somewhere….is your conscious bothering you??
    P.S. Get your eyes checked!!

  6. drsuess

    February 8, 2012 at 4:29 am

    You never answered the two very simple questions that I asked Bunny. Also, keep in mind that I have not attacked you. I asked questions and made statements of facts. If you don’t like what I have to say then don’t read it. Furthermore, do you have proof that no crime was committed? Do you know that he wasn’t in the parking lot? Do you know if he had threatened anyone that night including the police officers? My interest in this is purely my own. I guess I don’t like seeing guys that put their lives on the line every day getting dragged through the mud for doing their job. You can keep saying it was a brutal shooting and attacking me, but you have yet to provide anything except for trivial, emotion-fueled rhetoric. Lastly, I have no reason to try to fool anyone. My conscious doesn’t bother me at all. If this goes to trial in May, which I doubt from the letter I received from the plaintiff’s attorney as he is dead set on settling, then hopefully I can testify to what I saw and this can all be laid to rest.

  7. bunnym

    February 8, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Oh I have proof a crime was committed that night, an innocent man was brutally murdered. I only hope this does goes to trial, guess I’ll see you there. No one has attacked you… seems someone or two claimed that same statement and it got someone else killed…. I’m seeing a pattern here.
    If you think that I’ve provided you with “trivial, emotion-fueled rhetoric” then get ready.

  8. Sal

    February 8, 2012 at 11:04 am

    You saw everything? Well then I have one question for you. Did you see Officer McGraw trip as he backed away and start shooting his weapon from the ground as my brother lunged over with a hatchet and knife?

  9. rainbow66

    May 28, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Well drsuess I was there that night too and I saw that officer place that hatchet in his hand so I don’t know what you saw. That was an innocent man that was killed that night and it is something that I will never forget.