Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former McDonough County sheriff’s deputy sues the county and sheriff

Rich Egger

The former McDonough County sheriff’s deputy who was involved in a fatal high speed chase last year is filing a federal lawsuit, about two months after he was relieved of his duties.

The complaint filed on behalf of Evan Schmalshof names the county and Nicholas Petitgout, individually and not in his official capacity.

The lawsuit alleges, “As part of Petitgout’s overall scheme to harass Evan out of his free speech rights, Petitgout has systematically oppressed Evan in a variety of ways.”

It states Schmalshof was suspended even though “Evan followed the policy and procedures adopted by Petitgout.”

The complaint says Schmalshof gave truthful testimony that was against the interests of Petitgout, and that Petitgout began to harass Schmalshof immediately thereafter.

It also alleges Petitgout told Schmalshof to make no statements regarding the sheriff’s department, and blocked him from the department’s Facebook page.

Petitgout is also accused of telling others in the department that they should not have any contact with Schmalshof, and he told union representative Jay Titus not to speak with Schmalshof.

The lawsuit seeks “an amount in excess of $1,000,000.00 or such other amount deemed just and equitable” for those complaints and others.

The 18-page lawsuit alleges Petitgout interfered with Schmalshof’s duties as police chief of Blandinsville in northern McDonough County by prohibiting Schmalshof from bringing those charged with crimes to the county jail.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for interfering with those duties.

The complaint says Petitgout’s conduct was “designed to bring about emotional distress" in Schmalshof and that the sheriff’s conduct was “truly outrageous.”

The chase

The fatal chase happened on Jan. 27, 2023, on U.S. Route 67 between Macomb and Industry.

James Mellenthin, 35, of Cottage Hills, was the driver of the other vehicle. His car rolled over after it was bumped from behind by the deputy squad car driven by Schmalshof as both traveled at high speeds.

Mellenthin was thrown from the vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

You can read more details about the chase here.

Schmalshof was placed on paid administrative leave in the days after the crash.

A bit more than a year later, on Feb. 2, 2024, Petitgout announced that he had relieved Schmalshof of his duties because the deputy was untruthful when completing his report in the days after the crash.

This is the second lawsuit involving the fatal chase.

Mellenthin’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court last fall against Petitgout, Schmalshof, the county, and others.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.