The family of a man who died after five hours inside a police cruiser has accepted a settlement offer made by the city of Punxsutawney, and the case has been dismissed with the acceptance of the settlement. However, the decision has not been made about what to do with the officer who originally incarcerated the man in his cruiser.
Stephen Obbish was found intoxicated and passed out on the floor of a store in Punxsutawney in 2009. Deciding to let him sleep it off, the police moved Obbish to a cruiser car and left him in the back. They checked on him every so often for five hours, but at the end of the five hours discovered he had died in his sleep.
Ultimately the county elected to settle the case for $250,000 paid to Mr. Obbish’s family. They also issued an apology to the family through their representative, and pledged to develop new guidelines for incarcerating people. Special emphasis is to be put on intoxicated suspects or people who might need medical attention.
What is also interesting about this case is the parallel case the county has brought against the officer who made the original detention, Detective Brian Andrekovich. Andrekovich was fired following the decision, but made an appeal which he won. The county in turn has appealed that decision, lost this motion, and is trying to appeal to a higher court. Andrekovich remains off the job at this time.
The county contests that Andrekovich knowingly made a bad call when he left Obbish in the car. However, Andrekovich and his attorneys argue that the policy of the county police is to leave such situations up to the judgment of the officer in question. Only after the fact did the county insist that Obbish should have received medical treatment, and thus the firing is unfair. This case has certain implications: If Andrekovich loses, it essentially represents an attempt by the county to wash its hands of responsibility for creating a culture in which an officer felt this kind of behavior was acceptable.