When Capt. Jim Lutz, 57, started his shift on April 28, 1994, those around him already knew he was a hero. He was brave in the face of danger, and he was a mentor to the younger officers in the Waukesha Police Department.
The 29-year law enforcement veteran didn’t make it home that day. He went to apprehend two bank robbers – James Oswald and his son, Ted Oswald. Paying the ultimate sacrifice, Lutz died after being shot while exchanging gunfire with the Oswalds.
“Jim Lutz was a humble, selfless individual who gave his life in defense of our community,” said retired Deputy Police Chief Mark Stigler, who had been a young officer when Lutz was killed. “That is a sacrifice that very few of us are ever called upon to make. He rose to the challenge. As was his nature, he faced danger and paid the price for it.”
The Oswalds fled the scene, drove to Pewaukee, took a person hostage and engaged in a shootout with law enforcement. As they were trying to flee police in Pewaukee, they crashed into a tree and were taken into custody. The bank robbers have since been sentenced to life in prison.
Retired Pewaukee Police Chief Ed Baumann was on patrol 20 years ago when he spotted the car driven by the Oswalds near Waukesha County Technical College. At that time, he was unaware that his mentor had just been gunned down. As they pursued the Oswalds, Baumann met with other law enforcement members when a Waukesha County deputy gave him an update on the case.
“My heart just dropped,” said an emotional Baumann.
“He was a policeman’s policeman, and he was a cop’s cop,” Baumann said. “He was never afraid to get out there and work. … He was one of my heroes. Capt. Lutz was a great man.”
Both Stigler and Baumann remembered another time Lutz was brave and a hero in the face of danger. A suicidal man was armed in a field near Springdale Road and Moreland Boulevard when Lutz responded to the call.
“The guy was in the middle of the field and Jim Lutz put on a vest and walked out there, talked to the guy and was able to disarm him and keep him from hurting himself,” Stigler said. “That kind of courage you don’t see much.”
Jennifer Johnson was working as an administrative assistant at the police department when Police Chief Thomas Stigler was in a meeting with the newly elected Mayor Carol Opal. She witnessed the expressions among clerical staff as they learned that their captain had been killed in the line of duty.
“It was really amazing to see everyone put aside personal difficulties to get the work that had to be done done,” Johnson said.
Lutz had a gruff exterior, Johnson said, but he was committed to Waukesha and the officers in the city.
“He was definitely a mentor and a friend,” Johnson said. “He was always willing to teach others. He was true to his core values. … He was a really good person, and it was a great loss at too young of an age.”
Department changes tactics
Capt. Lutz’s death left a lasting impact on the Waukesha Police Department and surrounding law enforcement agencies, Stigler said. Reviewing Lutz' murder, the police department developed policies and invested in equipment to help their officers be safer while responding to dangerous situations. Weapons were changed, and officers were given ballistic shields.
Law enforcement officers went through training and “practiced how to handle that exact kind of scenario should it, God forbid, ever happen again,” Stigler said.
Exactly 12 years later, on April 28, 2006, a bank robbery suspect shot at police before being arrested near Sunset Drive and Highway 59. No one was injured during that exchange of gunfire.