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Thursday, May 1, 2003 02:20 pm

The Sallengers get their day in court

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Andrew Sallenger

The Andrew Sallenger case is about to move from street protests to the federal courthouse. Mary Sallenger, whose mentally-ill son Andrew died hours after a struggle with Springfield police officers last year, filed a civil suit in federal court April 25, charging seven defendants with responsibility for her son's death.

The defendants are the City of Springfield, the Springfield Police Department, Chief John Harris (who recently submitted his letter of resignation), and the SPD officers directly involved in last year's April 28 and April 30 arrests of Andrew Sallenger--patrolmen James Wangard, Brian Oakes, and Jason Oliver, and Sergeant James Zimmerman.

Andrew Sallenger's untimely death was the subject of Illinois Times March 13 cover story, "Why Andy Won't Die." Just 35 at the time of his death, he had a history of paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In 1996, he took his then-wife hostage at gunpoint and held her and their two young sons in their apartment for nine hours until a mental health counselor arrived at the scene. Sallenger surrendered peacefully and spent time in a mental institution and prison as a result of the incident.

Sallenger's death last year happened after being arrested by SPD twice in one week. On April 28, he wandered several blocks away from his mother's home, knocked on a stranger's door, and then went into a church. SPD officers removed him from the church and arrested him on an outstanding warrant for fishing without a license. After a mental health evaluation at Memorial Hospital, Sallenger was taken to jail.

The next day, his family bailed him out. His sister, Kim Nolan, says she spent that day visiting a local mental health clinic and the state's attorney office trying to get her brother involuntarily committed to McFarland Mental Health Center, but her pleas were futile.

Late that night, when Sallenger started walking around the house naked, the family called police and an ambulance to take him to a hospital. The three officers who came to the house that night--Zimmerman, Oliver, and Oakes--scuffled with Sallenger, spraying him with pepper spray and beating him with their fists and Maglights after he reportedly lunged at them. Once they had Sallenger hogtied, they noticed he wasn't breathing and called paramedics. Emergency room doctors revived Sallenger, but he never regained consciousness and died the following day.

The 22-page complaint filed last week by Peoria attorney Andrew Kleczek alleges that all defendants engaged in a "pattern of illegal conduct" against Sallenger and "other citizens," including harrassment, beatings, excessive force, intimidation, assault and battery, deprivation of medical and psychological treatment, unlawful arrest, and deprivation of Constitutional rights. It also alleges that the city, SPD, Harris, and Zimmerman failed to adequately train, educate, discipline, supervise, and monitor officers, thereby creating an atmosphere "wherein such illegal and unconstitutional behavior is tolerated, acquiesced in or condoned."

In the complaint, assigned to Judge Jeanne Scott, Mary Sallenger asks for a jury trial and compensation of at least $50,000.

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