Charges filed against former N.J. pastor for choking infant at Overland Park Wal-Mart

Author: Tony Rizzo and Ian Cummings
Date Published: 10/20/2016
Oleh Zhownirovych Johnson County Sheriff’s Office
Oleh Zhownirovych Johnson County Sheriff’s Office

A former New Jersey church pastor was charged Thursday with attacking a 4-month-old girl Wednesday inside an Overland Park Wal-Mart.

Oleh Zhownirovych, 54, of Clifton, N.J., was charged in Johnson County District Court with aggravated battery and misdemeanor battery.

The incident occurred about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in the 7700 block of Frontage Road.

Overland Park police said the baby’s mother was standing in a checkout line when a man she didn’t know came up and grabbed the baby. He allegedly began choking the infant before a security guard and some bystanders intervened and held him until police arrived.

The security guard acted especially quickly to stop the attack, according to Leslee Wright, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

“He did jump in immediately to help,” she said. As is usual at Wal-Mart stores, the guard is not a company employee but rather employed by a security firm.

The company does not always encourage security guards or bystanders to get physically involved in every kind of incident, but in this case, Wright said, it seemed the right thing to do.

“I think they did act heroically,” she said. “We don’t know what would have happened to that child. I think this definitely rose to the level of potentially life and death.”

In a prepared statement, Wal-Mart said the company is working with police.

“Our main concern right now is for our customer and her child. We’re appalled this happened in our store,” the statement read in part.

The baby was not seriously injured, police said, but the felony aggravated battery charge alleges that he attacked the baby in a manner in which “great bodily harm, disfigurement or death” could have occurred.

The misdemeanor battery charge involves one of the men who subdued him.

Bond for Zhownirovych was set at $100,000. He made his first court appearance Thursday afternoon and is scheduled back in court Oct. 27.

A Ukrainian Orthodox church in Clifton is listed as his address on Johnson County jail booking records.

Officials there said that Zhownirovych was the former pastor, but had left the position last year.

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc

Ian Cummings: 816-234-4633, @Ian__Cummings