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Officers Who Let Boy Stay With Dahmer Defend Actions

September 12, 1991 GMT

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ They were decorated officers honored for numerous arrests, even saving nine lives, but then they encountered Jeffrey L. Dahmer and their careers were tarnished.

Despite being fired for leaving a naked boy with Dahmer to be killed in May and enduring intense criticism, John A. Balcerzak, 34, and Joseph P. Gabrish, 28, say they still believe their actions were correct.

″At the time, with the information we had - to this day I think we did the appropriate thing, the best that we could,″ Balcerzak said in his first interview since the encounter came to light after Dahmer’s arrest.

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The two former patrolmen spoke Wednesday in an interview with WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee after appealing their dismissals to the civilian police and fire commission that oversees the police department.

Police Chief Philip Arreola fired the two officers Friday and placed a third on probation for leaving a naked, intoxicated Laotian boy with Dahmer on May 27 after investigating a report of a molested child.

Dahmer, 31, who has admitted killing 17 people since 1978, told police he killed 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone as soon as the officers left his apartment.

He also has told police he killed four others between the time of the contact with the officers and his arrest July 22, when police returned to his apartment and discovered 11 mutilated bodies.

Arreola charged the officers botched their investigation because they didn’t check the boy’s identity, question Dahmer’s background, thoroughly listen to witnesses or call their superiors for advice.

Police recordings indicate one officer laughed about needing to be ″deloused″ after leaving Dahmer’s apartment and later dismissed a witness who called back and insisted six times police had left an endangered boy behind.

The officer told the witness that police were certain the incident was nothing more than a ″boyfriend-boyfriend thing,″ the recording said.

Balcerzak and Gabrish said they had been convinced by Dahmer that the boy was actually an adult homosexual lover who simply drank too much and wandered naked onto the street.

″I wish there had been some other piece of evidence or information available to us,″ Gabrish said. ″We handled the call the way we felt it should have been handled.″

Balcerzak, who was credited for rescuing eight people from a burning building in 1988 and making 19 merit-worthy arrests during his six-year police career, described Dahmer as ″calm and as collected as could be.″

Gabrish said Dahmer’s helpfulness contributed to their decision not to check his background. At the time, Dahmer was on probation for child molestation.

″We routinely don’t check out complainants that come forward to help us out. He was very cooperative,″ said Gabrish, whose nine-year career included credit for 19 praise-worthy arrests and saving the life of a man who tried to dash into a burning building.

Gabrish said the officers did not talk to the witnesses at the scene who had summoned police because ″we focused our attention to our assignment. They were asked very kindly to stand aside.″

Asked about the joking on the police radio after they left Dahmer’s apartment, Blacerzak said: ″It is a type of transmission that is commonplace, that type of jocularity.″

Balcerzak said he dismissed the subsequent call from resident Glenda Cleveland, who questioned the opfficers’ decision to leave the boy behind, because he had been at the scene while Ms. Cleveland was relying on others’ accounts.

″She wasn’t actually there,″ he said. ″I felt that my firsthand knowledge was more informative than what she had heard from someone else.″

Both officers said their seven-week suspensions and subsequent firings have taken a toll personally. ″Obviously, this is going to be something that stays with us forever,″ Gabrish said.

But Ms. Cleveland said the officers’ interview reinforced the reasons why they were fired.

″I was waiting to hear that if for some reason they were reinstated and they were confronted with a similar situation, would they handle it the same way,″ she said.

″I can’t help but come to the conclusion that evidently they would,″ she said. ″But we all know the consequences. I would not like to take that chance again.″