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County ‘Hostages’ Awarded $117,000 in Damages

January 16, 1986

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Five county employees who were held as mock hostages during a police training exercise at the courthouse last year were awarded $117,000 on Wednesday by a federal jury.

Madison County employees Myrna Wiederhoeft, Alice Holzem, William Forrest, Ross Hoffman and Gilbert Butzlaff were taken captive by the police in a training exercise near the end of the work day Feb. 28, 1985.

Mrs. Wiederhoeft, 58, a copy machine operator, told the jury she ″thought I was going to die″ when a man grabbed her around the neck and pointed a gun at her head during the incident.

John Stevens, the employees’ attorney, had told the U.S. District Court jury they deserved $805,000 in compensatory and punitive damages because of emotional stress and for ″psychological injuries″ they may bear the rest of their lives.

The panel, however, decided on awards totaling $117,074, including $27,500 in punitive damages, with differing amounts to go to each of the employees.

The award is subject to approval by Judge Barbara Crabb.

″The fact that punitive damages were awarded, I think, was unjustified,″ Tim Yanacheck, attorney for the county, said. He said he would recommend that Sheriff Louis F. Gianoli appeal the award.

Yanacheck had told the jury the employees were entitled to some compensation but ″not in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.″

The employees originally asked $2.75 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the county. In December, the county offered to settle out of court for a total of $75,000. The offer was declined.

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