Ex-cop looks to rebuild after charge dismissed in shooting of son

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
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Macomb Township — Last year, retired Hamtramck police officer Michael Szymanski lost his job, was charged with a felony and facing up to a decade in prison for shooting his son during a Memorial Day party.

But after a Macomb County judge's dismissal of the case last week, he's now focused on rebuilding his life following what his attorney contends was a self-defense shooting that shouldn't have resulted in charges for Szymanski in the first place.

"He was charged with a felony, he lost his job and was facing up to 10 years in prison. None of that should have happened," said Szymanski's lawyer Todd Flood. 

Michael Szymanski

Szymanski, 57, was charged in July with assault to do great bodily harm less than murder in the shooting of his then 30-year-old son, Steven Szymanski.

But evidence and testimony presented during a preliminary examination in Shelby Township's District Court supported Szymanski's self-defense claims, Flood said, after the elder Szymanski was attacked by his son in the ex-cop's own home. 

On May 28, the case was dismissed by 41-A District Court Judge Matthew Rumora, who said there wasn't sufficient evidence to support the charge. 

"Thankfully, the court realized my client had every right to defend himself," Flood said. "If you are in your own home and are fearful of injury or death you don’t have to run and hide somewhere."

Flood said it has been an emotional and tense year for Szymanski, who along with Flood, has received over 300 threatening emails. Szymanski, Flood added, also was subjected to a "vicious" social media campaign and picketed by demonstrators outside the Macomb County Sheriff's Office and Macomb County Prosecutor's Office.

Michael Szymanski served 25 years with the Hamtramck Police Department before retiring in 2010. At the time of the shooting, he'd been working as a federal security officer.

Michael Szymanski said Thursday he has no idea when his life will be back to normal. 

“I’ve had better years, that’s for sure,” he said. “Yeah, the charge was dropped, I no longer have a tether on my ankle and I can go out. It was like being under house arrest except for going to court.”

“It has been tough on me but this has been very hard on my whole family,” he added. “I have a teenage daughter from my second wife who still has nightmares. Some nights I only get two to three hours sleep."

After nearly 40 years in law enforcement, Szymanski said when he was charged he lost a federal job with a top security clearance.

He's since been able to find work conducting appraisals on fire and water damaged properties for insurance claims. 

"I am lucky I have work so I can pay my bills," he said. "I went through retirement savings. Even sold my boat.”

He said on the morning of Memorial Day 2020, he and Steven and a friend of his son, Anthony Radtke, were working on the 34-foot-long cabin cruiser at a Harrison Township marina, getting it cleaned up and ready for the summer boating season. Michael Szymanski then invited his son to come over later in the day for a family party.

At some point, Steven Szymanski became argumentative and was asked several times to leave, his father contends. Then he became combative.

“He knocked me to the floor and started strangling me, his eyes were black,” Szymanski claimed. “I was losing consciousness and was told by others my face was turning purple when he was pulled off of me.”

Last summer, a relative characterized the younger Szymanski was a "kind and loving person" and said he'd spent two weeks hospitalized, lost a kidney and underwent two life-saving surgeries as a result of the shooting. A contact for Steven Szymanski was not listed in public records. 

Steven Szymanski

In response to Rumora's ruling, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham stood by the investigation conducted by his department. 

“We gathered all the facts, spoke to witnesses twice, and presented to the prosecutor’s office who charged Mr. Szymanski,” Wickersham said in a statement attributed to him by an aide.

When asked to address other aspects of the Szymanski investigation, Wickersham said “no further information will be available at this time.”

Szymanski noted that threats he's received have been turned over to Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido's office. Lucido did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Steven Szymanski, of Fraser, told police he was shot by his father outside the elder Szymanski's house near 22 Mile and Hayes in Macomb Township around 1:30 a.m. on May 24, 2020. 

But eyewitnesses, including Radtke, provided a different version of events during the court examination. 

“Radtke told how he earlier tried to get Steven off of his father,” said Flood. “He (Radtke) said his friend ‘seemed possessed’ and that he had never seen him that angry before."

Testimony determined Steven Szymanski had been drinking since earlier that day and argued with several attendees, including his father, leading up to a fight.

“After the first fight he and his friends were ordered to leave and were out of the house but another of the son’s friends talked someone into opening a door so they could get their cell phones and a bag," said Flood. "And when that happened he lunged back inside and told his father ‘We are going to solve this tonight.’”

In the second and final altercation, the elder Szymanski — who had been body-slammed and threatened by his son — feared for his life, grabbed a handgun from a cupboard and shot his son once in the stomach. 

After the shooting, Steven Szymanski was found to have a blood alcohol level of .24 — three times that in which a person is determined intoxicated under Michigan law.

Michael Szymanski said Thursday he's unsure what prompted the incident or whether he'll be able to repair his relationship with his son. He said he was instructed over a year ago not to have contact with his son and hasn't spoken with him. 

“I believe in God and the good book said you aren’t supposed to hold a grudge forever,” he said. “But I don’t know if I will ever be able to trust him.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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