The Jeffrey Dahmer Victim Who Did Not Have To Die
My interest in certain cases continues long after the headlines cease. Such is the case surrounding Jeffrey Dahmer. His name is no doubt familiar to everyone reading this. His despicable mass murders, depraved mind, and his subsequent death at the hands of another prisoner, are general knowledge. However, there is something else about the case that stays with me, and it has to do with how his youngest victim met his death because of the homophobic and national origin bigotry of two Milwaukee Police Department officers.
Fourteen year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone did not have to die.
Konerak Sinthasomphone’s family left the Nonkai refugee resettlement camp in Thailand, and came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when Konerak was 3-years old. On May 26, 1991 when he was 14-years old, Konerak was playing soccer when Jeffrey Dahmer approached him. Dahmer offered him money to come to his apartment to pose for Polaroid pictures. Konerak was reluctant, but changed his mind.
According to Konerak’s family, Konerak would not have recognized Dahmer as the man who, in 1988, was convicted of drugging and sexually fondling his then 13-year old brother.
“We never saw him. Police officers told us they were going to put him away for good,“ said Anoukone Sinthasomphone. “We never thought he was going to be out.“
The family was so convinced of what they were told by the police that they never went to court when Dahmer was tried and sentenced to 1 year of work release and 5 years of probation.
Three years later, and while on probation, Dahmer would visit grief upon the Sinthasomphone family again.
In Dahmer’s apartment, Konerak posed for two photos in his underwear. According to Dahmer, he drugged Konerak with sleeping pills and while unconscious, he performed oral sex on him, then drilled a single hole in Konerak’s skull and injected muriatic acid into his frontal lobe. Dahmer was experimenting to see if he could render his victims into passive submission, and he was so confident in this that after injecting muriatic acid into Konerak’s brain, he left his apartment to go to a local bar.
Somehow, Konerak found his way out of Dahmer’s apartment and butt-naked, was found by Sandra Smith and Nicole Childress, both 17. They called the police. Konerak appeared drugged, confused and was bleeding from his rectum. He was not coherent to talk. Sandra and Nicole knew Konerak from the neighborhood. They knew something was wrong. While waiting for the police to arrive, Dahmer returned from the bar. He tried to convince Sandra and Nicole that Konerak was his lover and he took Konerak’s arm to take him back to his apartment. The two 17-year olds intervened and would not allow Dahmer to take Konerak.
Milwaukee Police Officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish arrived. Dahmer told them that Konerak was his 19-year old boyfriend who had drank too much following a quarrel.
Sandra and Nicole told the police that Konerak was a child, was bleeding, and that he had struggled against Dahmer’s attempts to walk him to his apartment.
Sandra and Nicole were told by the officers to “butt out,” “shut the hell up,” that it was a domestic incident, and threatened them with arrest for interfering.
Officers Balcerzak and Gabrish covered Konerak with a towel, and at Dahmer’s offer of giving them proof that Konerak was his lover, they escorted Konerak back to Dahmer’s apartment. Dahmer showed the officers the two Polaroid photos he had taken of Konerak in his underwear. Leaving Dahmer’s apartment after seeing proof that they were lovers, the officers remarked to Dahmer to “take good care” of Konerak.
After the officers left, Dahmer injected more muriatic acid into Konerak’s brain. It was fatal. According to Dahmer, he took off work the next day to devote himself to dismembering the bodies of Konerak and that of 31-year-old Tony Hughes, who he had killed 3 days earlier, and whose dead body was laying on the bedroom floor of Dahmer’s apartment when the police were there. Dahmer retained both victims’ skulls.
Had Officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish checked Dahmer for identification and conducted a background check, they would have found that Dahmer was a convicted child molester on probation. Not only did Balcerzak and Gabrish not check Dahmer for identification, they neither asked Dahmer if he had Konerak’s identification in his apartment.
After Dahmer’s arrest and the discovery of Konerak’s skull in his apartment, the story was widely publicized and an audiotape was released of officers Balcerzak and Gabrish making homophobic statements to their dispatcher and cracking jokes about having reunited “lovers.” The officers defended their decision to take Konerak to Dahmer’s apartment, saying that Konerak did not speak English. That angered Konerak’s family who said that Konerak spoke perfect English, having come to this country as a 3-year old. They also said that it should have been apparent to the officers that Konerak was not 19-years old.
Balcerzak and Gabrish were terminated, and took their termination to court where a judge reinstated them. John Balcerzak went on to serve as president of the Milwaukee Police Association from 2005 to 2009. He later opened a tavern. Gabrish was hired as a police officer in suburban Grafton, Wisconsin.
The story didn’t end there. The Sinthasomphone’s filed suit against the City of Milwaukee. Some readers might have heard it said that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the purpose of the Constitution is to protect the people from the State, not to ensure that the State protects them from each other. In other words, the government cannot be sued for failure to protect citizens from citizens.
That doctrine was reaffirmed in the case DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, (1989). I came upon comments during the Zimmerman case where people used that to say that the Sanford Police Department had no duty to protect Trayvon Martin from George Zimmerman. That debate centered on the dispatcher telling Zimmerman, “We don’t need you to do that” in response to Zimmerman answering that he was following Trayvon.
In 1992, Chief Judge Terence T. Evans of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, in the case of The Estate of Konerak Sinthasomphone v. The City of Milwaukee, left no stone unturned in analyzing that doctrine. The City of Milwaukee used that doctrine in effort to have the Sinthasomphone case dismissed on the doctrine of failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. In other words, the City of Milwaukee claimed that the allegations were true, but there is no law to give the Sinthasomphone’s redress.
Judge Evans explained that the Sinthasomphone plaintiffs were not merely alleging that the police officers failed to protect Konerak from Jeffrey Dahmer, but that they actively prevented private citizens from helping him, and in fact, delivered Konerak, who was a minor, not to his parents, but into Dahmer’s custody. Chief Judge Evans wrote:
“The police left him with Dahmer despite the persistent attempts of private citizens to urge them to investigate further. One of the officers assured a concerned private citizen, who later called the police station, that everything was under control. In other words, the allegations are not just of police inaction, but of police action, action which violated Konerak Sinthasomphone’s substantive due process rights. I find that a claim is stated on this basis alone.”
Judge Evans established the difference between police inaction, and police action. The case proceeded. A few days before trial was to begin, the City of Milwaukee agreed to pay $850,000 to the Sinthasomphone family. In April 1995, Deputy City Attorney Rudolph M. Konrad said that the settlement was a way to avoid the trauma of replaying Dahmer’s crimes.
When the case was settled, Jeffrey Dahmer was dead, having been beaten to death on November 28,1994.
In July 2011, the Wisconsin Gazette published an article titled, “Dahmer Case Changed Police Relations.” It reports about some Milwaukee police officers who came out of the closet after the Dahmer case, and how it led to positive reforms in the police dealing with the LGBT community.
Posted on 08/08/2015, in Cases, Cops Gone Wild, Konerak Sinthasomphone and tagged Jeffrey Dahmer, John Balcerzak, Joseph Gabrish, Konerak Sinthasomphone, Milwaukee, to serve and protect, Wisconsin. Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.