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Protesters raise concerns about death of Rock County Jail inmate

By Frank Schultz
August 25, 2015

JANESVILLE—Protesters chanted “Black lives matter. All lives matter” in front of the Rock County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday.

The Beloit and Janesville residents holding the peaceful protest were concerned about the Aug. 18 death of Rock County Jail inmate Dante T. Wilson.

Wilson, 39, of Beloit had complained of breathing problems and chest pains, and he was moved to a cell in the jail's medical unit, officials have said. Wilson later had trouble breathing, and an ambulance was called.

He was pronounced dead at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center.

“We truly don't know what happened to our friend Dante. … And they aren't saying anything," said Anthony Smith, one of the protest organizers.

Protesters interviewed said they are not accusing jail staff of foul play, but they believe he should have been taken to a hospital immediately when he told a jailer of his symptoms.

Officials have said that when Wilson was placed in the medical unit, the on-duty nurse consulted by phone with a doctor, and they decided on a course of treatment.

Later that night, a jailer noticed Wilson in trouble. Emergency measures were taken and an ambulance called.

“Him asking for help (the first time) should have been motive to respond faster,” Smith said.

Fifty-seven minutes passed from the time Wilson first complained of chest pains to the time the ambulance was called.

“Everybody says seconds and minutes matter when you're having a heart attack,” Smith said.

A forensic pathologist conducted an autopsy and gave a preliminary ruling that Wilson died of natural causes. Toxicology tests have not been completed and might shed more light on the matter.

Jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said Tuesday that investigators are still compiling reports and waiting for the toxicology results.

“Until we get all that information together, review it all, have it go through all channels, I really don't have anything more than what's been reported,” Chellevold said.

“All the sheriff's department is saying is it's being investigated, and we just want the truth. We want the attorney general's office to investigate,” protest organizer Sandra Taylor said.

“We want to make sure it's by the book. … Nobody is going to point the finger at themselves,” Taylor added.

Smith and Taylor said they had heard from other inmates that Wilson had chest pains two days earlier, which conflicts with Chellevold's statement last week that jailers had heard nothing about health problems until shortly before midnight Aug. 17.

Smith and Taylor said inmates have long complained about jail health care, especially that they are not treated in a timely manner and can't get their drugs on time.

Chellevold said it is difficult to respond without reference to specific cases.

Chellevold said the nurse goes through inmates' requests daily and decides which need to be treated immediately and which can wait. Smith mentioned wait times of three days, which Chellevold said is not typical.

Chellevold said Tuesday that Sheriff Robert Spoden will review the investigation once it is complete and decide whether an outside agency should be called in.

Chellevold had no estimate for when the investigation would be done.

“The most important thing for us is to do a thorough investigation, and that's what we're going to do,” Chellevold said.

Protesters carried signs that reflected concerns and protests elsewhere around the country, including “Black lives matter,” “The laws that were made to protect us are killing us,” and “The corrections system is nothing but black bodies for profit.”

Taylor and Smith, both of Beloit, said they knew Wilson for about 25 years.

No family members of Wilson were present, protesters said, but they had talked to the family.

“They're really upset about it,” Taylor said.

Taylor and Smith said 20 to 30 people participated over the course of Tuesday's protest, which lasted from 9 a.m. until about 1:20 p.m.

A Gazette reporter estimated about 15 protesters, including children, when she encountered them at 1:20 p.m.

Smith said protesters had not discussed Wilson's death with sheriff's office officials. They did discuss the protest beforehand with Capt. Jude Maurer, who treated them respectfully, he said.

Smith promised more protests focusing on aspects of relations between the black community and the law enforcement and corrections systems.


JANESVILLE—Christ the Rock Church plans a service to honor police in reaction to “anti-police sentiment” nationally, according to a news release from its pastor, Mike Dissmore.

The service honoring the Janesville Police Department is planned for Sunday, Sept. 20, at the church, 2232 Hermitage Lane, Janesville.

Police Chief Dave Moore will attend and receive a plaque from the congregation, according to the release.

“We just want to show our support for our men and women police officers during this unfortunate time of anti-police sentiment and negative press from the national media. We're calling this service 'Police Lives Matter,'” the release states.

Christ the Rock Church was formerly called The Rock Assembly of God.