Police chief investigated for use of force with man who allegedly tried to drown child

Missouri pond is scene of rescue after man allegedly tries to drown infant

Police on Monday rushed to a pond in Greenwood, Mo., after a man reported he had tried to drown his infant child. The officers saved the child.
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Police on Monday rushed to a pond in Greenwood, Mo., after a man reported he had tried to drown his infant child. The officers saved the child.

The police chief of Greenwood, Mo., remains on administrative leave while federal authorities investigate allegations that the chief used excessive force against a man accused of trying to drown his own 6-month-old daughter in a pond in December.

The city’s Board of Aldermen took the action against Police Chief Greg Hallgrimson while in closed session on Dec. 26.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker asked the Missouri Highway Patrol to investigate what happened to Jonathon Stephen Zicarelli, 28, after he showed up at the Greenwood Police Department and said he tried to kill his infant daughter.

On Friday, investigators from the FBI visited Zicarelli at the Jackson County jail, where he is being held pending a charge of first-degree assault, according to Tom Porto, one of his attorneys.

“I can confirm that the FBI was at the Jackson County jail on Friday investigating a possible criminal civil rights violation committed against Mr. Zicarelli by the Police Chief of Greenwood,” Porto said.

Porto declined to describe exactly what happened to Zicarelli after he was arrested.

On Monday, Hallgrimson said he has been instructed by his attorney not to discuss the matter. Greenwood City Clerk Dot Watkins said the reasons why the chief was placed on leave are personnel matters and can’t be released.

On Dec. 17, when Zicarelli allegedly arrived at the Police Department and told officers he had tried to drown his daughter, Hallgrimson and another officer rushed out to the icy retention pond on the west side of Greenwood.

Hallgrimson and Cpl. Tom Calhoun found the infant unconscious, floating face up in the pond. Her lungs were filled with water.

Calhoun waded into the thigh-deep water and retrieved her.

He and Hallgrimson removed the child’s wet clothes and wrapped her in the chief’s shirt to warm her body. Paramedics arrived and took over reviving the child and rushed her to a hospital.

The child was treated for severe hypothermia. Her temperature when she arrived at the hospital was 87.9 degrees, well below the normal temperature of 98.6 degrees, according to authorities.

Later that day, Jackson County prosecutors filed an assault charge against Zicarelli. He is being held on a $500,000 bond.

According to court records, Zicarelli told investigators he had been planning to kill his daughter for more than 24 hours after having “bad thoughts.” He said he wanted to make things easier for his wife. He said he was stressed by the holidays and by trying to provide for his family.

Before putting his daughter in the pond, prosecutors say, Zicarelli walked down to the water three separate times to determine whether he was capable of drowning the child.

An investigation of excessive force by Greenwood police could fall under a 2015 agreement between local law enforcement and federal authorities, according to Peters Baker, the prosecutor.

“The MOU that we have was triggered on this case,” Peters Baker said. “The MOU is when we have use of force incidents in order to review that we all notify each and then figure out what is the right path and who has the better case, if there is a case and who should proceed. Everybody is doing a review.”

Peters Baker said the Greenwood investigation is ongoing and no case has been presented to her office for criminal charges.

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said the agency was made aware of the allegation.

“We have been in contact with the relevant law enforcement agencies, however we neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation,” Patton said.

Zicarelli appeared in court on Monday and the case is being continued.

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Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.