Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons has determined that the use of lethal force by a county sheriff's department sergeant in January was justified.
"After reviewing the results of the thorough investigation completed by the Illinois State Police, it is abundantly clear to me that the officer acted reasonably in firing his weapon in this circumstance," Gibbons said. "In fact, it is highly likely that his use of force saved himself and the bystander from great harm or even death."
The Madison County Sheriff's Department, late on the evening of Jan. 4, was called to a residence at 7111 State Route 140 in rural Edwardsville.
Residents called 911 and said they suspected that a flammable liquid may have been poured into the chimney of their partially underground home. They believed a neighbor with whom they had an ongoing dispute may have been responsible.
Upon arrival, Sgt. Bill Marconi was confronted by Barry Cloninger, 51, who advanced toward him, pointing a shotgun in his direction. The officer, who was standing next to an acquaintance of Cloninger, ordered him to drop the gun. Cloninger continued toward the two men and raised the shotgun as if he was going to fire at them, police said.
Marconi, who said reported he believed he was in danger of being fired uppn, fired several shots at Cloninger. The suspect ran away and his body was later found behind his home.
Sheriff Bob Hertz said he was confident from the beginning that Marconi's actions were justified.
"I concur with the State's Attorney's decision," Hertz said. "I was kept up to speed from the onset of this and my take on this was that it was unfortunate that it had to happen. I felt very confident that (Marconi) did what he had to do."
Marconi, who has been with the Madison County Sheriff's Department for 14 years, is a former detective who currently works in the patrol division. Hertz said Marconi has never before been involved in a shooting investigation. He has been returned to patrol duty following the results of the investigation, which is routine when a police officer fires his gun on duty.
Hertz said he immediately referred the investigation to the Illinois State Police to make sure the investigation was done properly. Upon its completion, the results of the investigation were turned over to Gibbons for review.
Gibbons said that the investigation revealed not only that Cloninger's shotgun was loaded, but it was later determined that he was also legally intoxicated at the time of the incident, having both alcohol and cocaine in his blood.
According to state law, an officer is justified in using force likely to cause death or great bodily harm only when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or other such person.
"The use of force likely to cause great bodily harm or death must remain a last resort in law enforcement," Gibbons said. "However, as in this case, they may be left with no other reasonable, viable option."