Chesterton Tribune

Officers who shot and killed Szotek acted properly, prosecutor reports

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The Porter County Prosecuting Attorney has determined that the SWAT officers who shot and killed James Szotek on March 5, following a standoff at his home in Jackson Township during which Szotek fired a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle numerous times in the direction of officers, “acted properly and lawfully under the circumstances.”

“As such, there is no basis for any criminal liability with respect to the officers involved in the shooting,” Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel said in a statement released on Monday.

Gensel said that, in making its determination, his office reviewed reports furnished by the Indiana State Police, which lead the investigation, reports from officers at the scene, and the autopsy and toxicology reports.

Szotek, 60, was found to have a blood alcohol content of .34 percent at the time of the incident—more than four times the legal limit—and tested positive as well for a tranquilizer, benzodiazepine.

Great Lakes Laboratories, which performed the toxicology screen, characterized Szotek’s B.A.C. as “toxic” and said that it “should be evaluated in events leading to death.”

According to the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, at 5:46 a.m. on March 5, officers were dispatched to Szotek’s residence at 225E 600N after receiving a report that Szotek was very intoxicated, was acting violently, and had shot his two dogs and two cats. The SWAT Team was subsequently mustered and negotiators made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to contact Szotek by telephone land line and public address system, police said. Police also said that the bodies of two dogs and a cat were observed in Szotek’s backyard and that he had nailed boards to the doorways apparently in an effort to barricade the home.

Then, at approximately 8:45 a.m., Szotek began firing at officers with a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle from inside the home through the back sliding door and continued to shoot from inside the home for around 10 minutes, police said.

Gensel told the Chesterton Tribune that officers on the scene estimated Szotek to have fired between nine and 15 rounds after they had arrived at the scene. ISP investigators, Gensel added, managed to find 12 casings at the scene.

At approximately 9 a.m., police said, Szotek exited the residence through the back sliding door and pointed the rifle in officers’ direction. One officer then fired a non-lethal round at Szotek but it either missed him or failed to incapacitate him. In any case, police said, Szotek did not drop his rifle but instead turned it on officers, and at that point two SWAT Team members fired and hit him in the head and chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

When recovered, police said, Szotek’s rifle was loaded with one round in the chamber and 15 in the interior magazine and its safety was off. Police said that Szotek—who had a history of violence and alcohol abuse and had been arrested several times in the past—had been served with divorce papers and a restraining order the day before the incident, and that his wife’s attorney had advised police that Szotek had threatened to kill any officer who served him papers. But Szotek was not at home when the papers were served.


Posted 4/28/2005