ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Murder by cop nets injustice for Crandon families

The families of the six victims of Crandon Police Officer Tyler Peterson - a guy who was also a Forest County sheriff's deputy - thought they had already paid. They have paid in ways, says Rose Gerow, that other people can't fathom.

The families of the six victims of Crandon Police Officer Tyler Peterson - a guy who was also a Forest County sheriff's deputy - thought they had already paid. They have paid in ways, says Rose Gerow, that other people can't fathom.

It has been well over two years since Peterson burst into a house on Crandon's Hazeldell Avenue and opened fire with his county-issued, AR-15 Bushmaster assault rifle. And still, says Gerow, the aunt of one of the victims, "You get up in the morning and think about these kids. You go to sleep and think about them."

"There are many tears that are shed."

The city and county want more, it seems though, than just tears.

They want money.

ADVERTISEMENT

What the families want, in the meantime, is acknowledgment the city and county bear some responsibility for what happened.

Peterson had a lot of issues. A lawsuit filed by the families alleges he was moody, angry, controlling and immature, and sometimes, like when one of the victims broke up with him, even violent. The AR-15 "made him feel important." And yet, according to the suit, neither agency "made a professional assessment to determine if Peterson was free from any emotional or mental condition" before hiring him.

Instead, said James Olson, an attorney for the families, "they made him a police officer and gave him the murder weapon."

When the victims told Peterson that night they were going to call the cops, he had a ready reply: "I am the cops."

A judge recently dismissed the suit, partly because local governments in Wisconsin have statutory immunity. Here's part of what really bothers people like Rose Gerow, though. The judge - at the behest of the city and county - also granted a $21,000 judgment against the families and the one survivor for legal costs.

"Those kids were everything to these parents," said Rose, whose sister is the mother of one of the victims, Bradley Schultz. "And then to want money?"

The folks at City Hall referred me to their lawyer, Mark Klinner.

"All I will say is it was certainly a terrible tragedy," he said. "We do have sympathy for the families. But at the same time, these were Tyler Peterson's actions, not the city and county's actions, that caused the tragedy to occur."

ADVERTISEMENT

Seeking a judgment for costs is "routine," he said. It "would require separate action" to collect, he added, "and that decision has not been made yet."

They are holding the judgment for money over the families' heads, in other words, to deter the families from appealing the dismissal of the suit. Money, they seem to forget, is not what really matters.

Not long after I talked to Rose on the phone, we met in Crandon at the site of the massacre. The house where Peterson did his killing is gone now, replaced by a stone gazebo and a memorial fountain and six benches with the names of the dead on them. Some of the benches have bricks stacked up underneath.

The city and county had nothing to do with the memorial. It is the work of countless volunteers and contractors who donated their time and money, and there is never enough of that. Folks can now purchase the bricks and put messages on them and there are already some that will break your heart.

"A mother holds her children's hands for a while, their hearts forever," says one in front of the bench with Katrina "Tink" McCorkle's name on it. "Love you, Katrina. Mom."

Maybe, instead of playing hard ball, the city and county officials could stop by and read a few of the bricks, maybe even buy a few with their precious dollars they are so afraid of losing. Because, sure, one way or another, the city and county might lose a little cash.

"We," said Rose, "lost our children."

Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com .

What To Read Next