Family Sues Over Bizarre Shooting Death
The mother and estate of Keith Galster, the man who was fatally shot in Portage police custody in October 2004, claim one of four Portage officers shot Galster in a lawsuit filed Nov. 16.
The new claim filed in U.S. District Court for Western Wisconsin goes against all police accounts, which claim Galster shot himself in the head while handcuffed behind his back during the incident. The lawsuit also runs contrary to the August findings of a six-person jury which ruled in a rare inquest hearing that Galster's death was a suicide, and not a homicide or accidental shooting.
Portage police were taking Galster, 27, into custody Oct. 22, 2004, after an acquaintance of Galster's told the department Galster was in possession of a safe containing marijuana. Police also believed
Galster, a convicted felon, was in illegal possession of a firearm, because the informant said Galster issued a threat with the gun drawn.
Officers devised a ruse to get Galster out of the house and into handcuffs; they flattened a tire and asked him to come outside to sign a non-consent form. Once Galster did, he was arrested and officers asked for his help in securing a pit bull, a Rottweiler and a puppy Galster had in the house.
Galster stayed calm for several moments, but then broke free from officers and let loose the potentially dangerous dogs, according to police reports. In the moments that followed, officers Klaude Thompson, Robert Bagnall, Jeff Stumpf and Brian Fehd tried to re-secure the scene in Galster's bedroom, including Galster, the dogs and Galster's girlfriend.
Galster, however, got to a gun and shot himself, according to police reports and the findings at the inquest hearing.
Forensic evidence admitted at the Aug. 17-18 death inquest indicated Galster was kneeling with the gun off to his right side near his waist when he fired the shot. Evidence also determined the bullet came from Galster's pistol.
The new lawsuit, however, makes a claim of police misconduct, specifically an "unlawful use of force by the defendants in the course of arresting Keith Galster, which resulted in Keith Galster's death," according to the civil complaint.
"While still handcuffed, Bagnall, Thompson, Stumpf or Fehd shot Keith Galster in the head, in Keith Galster's bedroom, with Galster's own gun," the complaint alleges. "Galster engaged in no conduct that justified the use of deadly force by Bagnall, Thompson, Stumpf or Fehd."
The suit seeks compensatory damages for the loss suffered by Galster's mother, Judy Johnson, as well as punitive damages for the officers' alleged engagement in "willful, wanton and reckless conduct."
Prior to filing the lawsuit, Galster's estate and parents filed a claim against both Portage and Columbia County, because the Sheriff's Department had a small part in assisting in the October incident. Columbia County specifically denied the claim in April, and Portage has taken no action on it, which is a denial according to state statute, City Attorney Andrew Voigt said.
Columbia County, however, has not been subject to any further lawsuits, according to the office of Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf.
Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey declined comment on the lawsuit. Johnson's attorneys Paul Kinne, Robert Gingras and David Geier also did not immediately respond to phone messages left Thursday.