Following a Madison Police officer's use of force during an arrest of a West High School student on Monday that led to community outcry, Chief Mike Koval said on Thursday that his department will ask an outside agency to review the incident in addition to MPD's internal review.
The incident occurred on Monday when a student at West experienced a mental health crisis and exhibited threatening behavior, according to police. The student went home around lunchtime, and was under a Chapter 51 commitment which allows for a person experiencing a mental health crisis to be committed to a hospital.
Officers went to the teen's home to take the student into protective custody at a local hospital. An altercation ensued where the teen was restrained and punched multiple times, according to a video of part of the incident that was posted online Wednesday.
"In the course of effecting (officers') orders, you have to submit to that lawful authority. To that extent there was some initial resisting arrest," Koval said. "One of our officers is on light duty today, owing to problems with a thumb, we don't know if it's a severe sprain or a borderline fracture, and pain in the rotator cuff."
Koval said following a press conference that introduced a new K-9 to the department that the officer who struck the student will be on restrictive duty until the investigations are complete.
The teen was still at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh as of Thursday afternoon, according to Koval.
The internal review will be conducted by MPD's professional standards and internal affairs team. Koval said he ordered the internal review after hearing concerns that a complainant had brought about an officer's use of force earlier that day. Koval plans to ask a subject matter expert in defense and arrest tactics to review whether the force was appropriate based on the state's training and standards curriculum.
"In this instance where the community nerve has been so struck, I believe it's important that they see an outside intervener looking at it from a different lens with no vested interest at stake," Koval said of having multiple reviews. "I have all the confidence in the world of our internal structure as well as the fact that we have a bevy of subject matter experts who have trained throughout the state in defense and arrest tactics. But I think in terms of accountability issues, I think the community is going to feel better knowing that I am contracting that out to have a clean set of eyes and ears, someone who doesn't respond to me in the chain of command, in order to feel better of whatever the results may be, and show people that we are demonstrating an effort to do the right thing in terms of finding the appropriate outcome."
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne had requested that information from the incident and the ensuing investigations be shared with his office, according to Koval, who said MPD will comply with the ask.
Koval acknowledged that the actions of officers in the video can cause concern in the community.
"The reality is, any use of force, though lawful, can look very awful," Koval said. "It's not clean. It's not as precise as one would hope and as one would think or fantasize about because these are dynamic situations and things usually don't go according to textbook. So we can agree that the optics on a lot of these use of force incidents, including this one, to the average viewer can give pause."
Koval said the investigation will include the video evidence from the home, as well as interviews and other fact-finding investigators will conduct.
"The video narrative does not tell the entire tale of the tape," Koval said. "You don't have any audio, don't have a seamless beginning, middle and end. You sort of have snippets and snapshots."
It's unclear whether the teen will face any criminal charges as a result of the incident, and the decision on whether to pursue charges will likely not happen until the teen gets evaluated.
"There is no one intent on believing that right now anyone should be discussing a sense of urgency of what potential charges or criminal culpability lie in the future. Our biggest concern is that this individual is getting the help he needs, and maybe this is an appropriate case to look at outside of the criminal justice system," Koval said before emphasizing that no decisions have been made.
The teen involved in the incident was black. Koval said the incident warrants investigation regardless of the racial undertones that may surround the incident.
"I don't think we can call this a question of race," Koval said. "I think we have to call it — what was the behavior the subject showed? Was the officer's behavior consistent with the training that they are supposed to get? The race issue is sort of subliminal in everyone's mind, but I hope that the ultimate way we are looking at this is based on the objective reasonableness of the fact."
'An affirmation' of the role of school police officers
Koval said Monday's incident reaffirms the need for school-based police officers. The comments came as debate over the role of school resource officers in Madison's high schools have roiled the Madison School District. A contract between the city and school district places one Madison police officer in the four comprehensive high schools. The officers receive training to work in school-based environments.
The current contract ends June 30, and negotiations between the district and city have stalled for months. The Madison School Board approved an amended contract in December that added language giving school officials the ability to remove an officer from a school if they found just cause. Koval and the city have argued that the added language is illegal, because personnel decisions on officers ultimately are under the authority of the police chief.
"When we have the opportunity to share robustly what occurred, I would have to say this is actually an affirmation and a validation of the role of the SRO," Koval said.
The officer placed at West, Justin Creech, knew the boy and worked with the school nurse and Journey Mental Health Monday morning as it became clear that something wasn't going right for the student. After efforts to help the student Monday morning didn't seem to help, the officer and school officials decided it was best if the boy went home. The police presence was requested to facilitate a safe transport to the hospital.
Koval said having an SRO present instead of having a patrol officer come to West and be unfamiliar with the student and the school environment would not have been helpful in mitigating the situation.
"I actually think the SRO was a central player in ensuring there was a wrap-around response, that there was Journey Mental Health, there was the school nurses plugged in," Koval said. "The kid was not harming himself or others and not being put into classroom environments where it's only going to aggravate perhaps a condition of what the kid is feeling. I would say this is an opportunity whereby if you only had a patrol response, the patrol officer isn't going to know the nuances of this kid, and not really know Journey or the school nurse."