Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jun 2003
Source: Athens News, The (OH)
Copyright: 2003, Athens News
Author: Jim Phillips


When 57-year-old Delbert Bonar, a retired school janitor from Washington 
County, was shot to death by sheriff's deputies during a drug raid at his 
home in October 1998, it stirred outrage among citizens not only in his 
area, but also in Athens County.

At the time, many Athens County residents were concerned about a 
multi-county drug task force that some felt had been overzealous. So when 
citizens from Bonar's home of Belpre packed a public meeting two months 
after his death, the crowd contained some Athens Countians as well.

An investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation has 
cleared the sheriff's deputies of any wrongdoing in Bonar's death, and a 
county grand jury that considered the case did not return an indictment. In 
a settlement announced this week, however, Bonar's family has agreed to 
accept $450,000 from the county in exchange for dismissing a federal 
lawsuit filed in November 2001.

"That's some compensation for a life," noted Athens attorney Bill Safranek 
drily. Safranek, who was among those who spoke out against Bonar's death at 
the time, noted, "It's not a negligible settlement, is it? They might have 
done something wrong."

Based on information from an informant, deputies with a search warrant 
burst into Bonar's home on Oct. 15, 1998. They were seeking Bonar's son 
Albert, whom they suspected of possessing stolen weapons and a large amount 
of marijuana. Delbert, Albert and Albert's wife Carolyn were all at the 
home during the raid.

Officers claimed Delbert Bonar grabbed a shotgun (later found to have been 
unloaded) and ignored orders to drop it. Carolyn Bonar denied this, but 
Sgt. William Wilson and Capt. Chris Forshey shot Delbert Bonar eight times, 
killing him. A small amount of marijuana was found in the home.

In a press release about the settlement, Washington County Sheriff Robert 
Schlicher extended sympathy to Bonar's family, but insisted that his 
officers did not use excessive force.

"I accept that certain members of the family and friends of Delbert Bonar 
believe in their hearts that the officers acted wrongfully on that night," 
Schlicher stated. "I respect their sincerity and their sorrow. However... I 
believe that the officers involved in this incident acted in accordance 
with their training, and in defense of their own lives and the lives of 
their fellow officers... I believe that, had this case been presented to a 
jury, the jury would agree."

The lawyer for Bonar's family, however, said that the size of the 
settlement suggests that this is not a nuisance settlement, but an implicit 
acknowledgement that the officers did something wrong. Attorney Harry G. 
Deitzler said he's very confident that he could have convinced a jury of this.

"There's the fact that the officers used a SWAT team to conduct a search 
for a baggie of marijuana," he said. "The fact that they did it at night. 
The fact that they came into the residence without alerting the persons 
inside to allow the entry. The fact that as they crashed in there, breaking 
down the door, they held the first person down, and had automatic weapons 
with laser pointers pointed at the other two, while they were yelling at them."

Deitzler said he believes the raid would never have been conducted the way 
it was had the suspect been someone with more social status than Bonar.

"They wouldn't have done this to a citizen that they perceived as having a 
little more stature," he alleged.

Attorney Cheri Hass, who represented Williams and Forshey, and attorney 
Randall Lambert, who represented Washington County, both said they wanted 
to go to trial, but the county's insurance pool insisted on settling. "(My 
clients) were opposed to settling the case throughout, and frankly, so was 
I," Hass said. "The sheriff's office did not sign off on it, nor did the 
individual defendants."

Despite Deitzler's claim that the size of the payoff shows there are more 
than economic considerations at work, Lambert said that in a case involving 
a fatal police shooting, damages could potentially run much higher than 

"If for some reason a jury were to go crazy, this could be a seven-figure 
case," he said. He noted that the insurance group's coverage is capped at 
$1 million, and anything over that is the county's responsibility.

Deitzler said legal expenses, which come out of the settlement, are around 
$100,000. Bonar's three sons will split up the rest.
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