Responsible officer jailed for drug abuse
Wieslaw Skowronek (on ground) was killed in January 1997 by a knee-spike administered by then Clearwater Police Officer John Ellis Smith (center).
anuary 19, 1997, was a tragic day for the Skowronek family of St. Petersburg. Early that evening, Wieslaw Skowronek, 44, was killed by a knee-spike to his abdomen delivered by then Clearwater Police Officer John Ellis Smith.
His widow, Ewa Skowronek, is determined to make the truth about the tragedy known. In a suit filed against the city, the police department and Smith in September 1997, she maintains department officials failed to supervise Smith despite his propensity to use improper and excessive force on citizens. Her lawsuit states that her husbands death could have been prevented.
Smith was fired from the police force a month after the death, following his arrest for buying anabolic steroids from an informant.
The events unfolded when Skowronek was on the site of the image of the Virgin Mary by the Seminole Finance Building on U.S. Highway 19. At about 6 p.m., a visitor at the shrine pointed Skowronek out to Officer Philip Biazzo, saying he had been acting suspiciously. The suspicious conduct apparently consisted of moving aside from the group slightly to stand by a clump of bushes.
Mrs. Skowroneks lawsuit confirms that her husband had broken no law, was unarmed and did not resist. Nor did he make any hostile movements.
When Biazzo called out to him, Skowronek walked away. Biazzo pursued him and told him to leave the area. An argument ensued, during which Biazzo told Skowronek he was under arrest for trespassing. The police report stated, Biazzo radioed for a back-up officer, and while attempting to handcuff Mr. Skowronek, both men fell to the ground, struggling.
Two hours later, Wieslaw Skowronek was dead.
Much as the beating of Rodney King triggered a chain of events that led to the ousting of Los Angeles Police Department Chief Daryl Gates, the Skowronek death poses troubling questions which may erupt into public view when his widows suit in U.S. District Court goes to trial. Why was Skowronek arrested in the first place? And how much force was actually needed to subdue him, particularly when he was already on his back?
Clearwater Police spokesman George Shelor declined to discuss the use of force on Skowronek.
After the knee-spike, the 6-foot 10-inch, 270-pound Smith handcuffed the 150-pound Skowronek and thrust him into the back of a police cruiser. According to the departments own account, some time after Skowronek was arrested, officers noticed he was laying down on the cruisers back seat. They straightened him up and fastened his seat belt. Later, officers noticed that Skowroneks complexion was ashen and called Clearwater Fire Department paramedics.
When the paramedics responded, they found Skowronek in cardiac arrest. Then too late he was driven to Clearwater Community Hospital, and pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
For five days, Smith and Biazzo denied any force had been used. Eventually, Biazzo had to admit that Smith had knee-spiked Skowronek. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiners Office, however, stated that severe force had been required to rupture Skowroneks pancreas with a knee.
Retired St. Petersburg Police Officer Ovid Paul Boyette, Skowroneks neighbor, saw no probable cause for arresting Skowronek. Whatever happened between the arresting officer and Skowronek was likely the result of a misunderstanding Skowronek, a Polish immigrant, had a heavy accent and was unable to speak or understand much English.
Boyette saw and spoke with Skowronek the day of the tragedy. He described him as a quiet, gentle person, a good family man and an excellent neighbor.
Clearwater Police Charged in Knee-spike Death continued...
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