By Audrey Carpenter
As an ongoing investigation, The Rock River Times has been publicizing awards paid to those who have successfully received money resulting from police excessive force cases. Taxpayers pay the settlements in these cases. The Rockford City Council and the Winnebago County Board vote to award settlement amounts.
It started out as a simple zoning issue. Thomas Sefick, a retired police officer and Machesney Park resident, was visited by Chad Hunter, a zoning inspector for the Village of Machesney Park, and Rocco Wagner, a former deputy chief of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, Dec. 9, 2009.
There was a question about abandoned cars on a portion of Sefick’s property. Sefick claimed he did not own or park the cars there, and that they were parked there by a neighbor.
A conflict erupted, and a citation was issued by the zoning inspector to Sefick.
Sefick went to the Machesney Park Village offices and was speaking with Mayor Tom Strickland regarding the issue when he was noticed there by Officer Wagner. Wagner arrested Sefick and charged him with attempted obstruction of justice. Ultimately, he was found not guilty of that charge in 2011. Thereafter, he filed a civil lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office.
Sefick maintained he was simply talking to a person higher up in the chain of command at the village offices who he believed could step in and resolve the zoning issue.
During the arrest and transport to the Sheriff’s Office, Sefick said he suffered extensive shoulder injuries that ultimately required surgery, as well as abrasions on his arms and legs from the way Wagner handled him.
Last week, the Winnebago County Board was asked by the State’s Attorney’s Office to pay a $250,000 settlement to Sefick. Originally, the week prior, the board voted against a larger settlement in the amount of $400,000. Travelers Insurance has stepped in to make up the difference. Sefick’s total settlement amount, therefore, remains $400,000.
Dave Kurlinkus, Winnebago County deputy state’s attorney, said the insurance company has the authority to settle litigation and look for the county to pay the $250,000 reserve/deductible.
Wagner was head of the Internal Affairs Department at the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department when the incident in question occurred. Internal Affairs investigates police brutality cases. Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers told The Rock River Times that Wagner is not head of internal affairs presently.
“We investigate all excessive force cases as a matter of routine. But this case was not investigated by Wagner,” Meyers said. “There was no complaint filed by [plaintiff] Sefick to this office, but we looked at it anyway. We found no wrongdoing.”
Meyers remains employed at the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office part time.
From the Sept. 11-17, 2013, issue