A federal jury on Thursday cleared two of three Springfield police officers of accusations they used excessive force in subduing Andrew Sallenger more than five years ago.

 A federal jury on Thursday cleared two of three Springfield police officers of accusations they used excessive force in subduing Andrew Sallenger more than five years ago.


However, after 13 1/2 hours of deliberations, the jury could not reach a decision on whether a third officer should be found liable for Sallenger’s death.


The jury found in favor of Officer Brian Oakes and now-retired Sgt. James Zimmerman. No verdicts were returned on Officer Jason Oliver.


Mayor Tim Davlin reacted cautiously to the result, while Sallenger’s family, who brought the civil lawsuit, expressed anger.


Both sides agreed the jurors had a difficult job.


“Even though on two of the three officers they reached a verdict, I think it will be very clear if the case is retried that Officer Oliver did everything he could to try to restrain an individual under some very, very difficult circumstances with a tragic result,” said Davlin.


“I feel very confident that if it is retried, all the officers involved will be vindicated,” he said, adding that the case presented a “difficult situation to put jurors in.”

The Sallenger family agreed with that, but not much else.


“We do thank them. I would not have wanted to be in the jury room with them,” said Bonnie Burrello, Sallenger’s sister.


“There’s no hope in the city of Springfield. Don’t live in Springfield if you want to live.”


Sallenger, 35, died about 24 hours after struggling with police early April 30, 2002, at his family home on Eastdale Avenue. The family had left the home and called 911 because Sallenger, who was mentally ill and had not taken his medication for an extended period of time, was acting strangely.


Oakes, Oliver and Zimmerman were first on the scene. When they found Sallenger in his room, he was naked, muttering to himself and agitated. He aggressively approached them, and a tussle broke out, the officers said.


Police tried several things to bring Sallenger under control, including hitting him with their closed fists and with a flashlight and immobilizing him with handcuffs and a hobble (or hog-tying) device.


At the end of the struggle, Sallenger quit breathing.


Sallenger’s family said the officers used excessive force that caused Sallenger’s death. The officers contend they did what they could to bring the man under control.


The jury of five men and four women apparently experienced some tense moments in trying to reach their verdict.

When U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott convened the plaintiffs, defendants and all their legal counsel about 11 a.m. Thursday, she noted the jurors’ frustration by talking about notes sent back and forth regarding whether they were going to need lunch ordered.

“One juror indicated he was inclined to bolt out the door and refused to order lunch,” she told city attorneys when they said the jury still might be able to compromise.


“It’s improper to leave them in there forever,” she said. “Their response to the question, ‘Do you feel you are making progress?’ It was a definitive, ‘No!’ We have to accept the reality of where they are.”


Attorneys will have a telephone conference with Scott today to determine whether the case against Oliver will be retried and whether or not the Sallenger family will appeal certain other counts in the case that Scott dropped before the trial.


“Obviously, we disagree with the jury’s decision, but I don’t begrudge them. I think they did their duty to the best of their ability,” said David Kleczek, the Sallengers’ attorney.


“I do believe this is a case of excessive force. We haven’t made a final decision on it, but I believe it would be in the best interest to go forward.


“It’s also very important that when anybody — police officers, attorneys, anyone — step over the line, they are held accountable for that because that’s how we maintain the public’s trust.”


Family members said they intend to have Sallenger’s body exhumed.

Kimberly Nolan, Sallenger’s sister who called 911 that night for help, walked down Monroe Street crying after the verdict was returned.

Burrello said Sallenger’s family had hoped to go to his gravesite Thursday afternoon to tell him that Springfield police had been held accountable for his death. That plan changed after the verdict was read.


“I thought we’d say: ‘Justice!’ Something,” she said.


“I can’t go to the cemetery. I can’t. I don’t know what to say. We all blame ourselves. We should have been there for him.”


Sarah Antonacci can be reached at (217) 788-1529 or sarah.antonacci@sj-r.com.