Chief Mike Koval

The Police and Fire Commission has the authority to suspend, demote or fire Chief Mike Koval if it finds him at fault.

Members of the Madison Police and Fire Commission heard five hours of evidence Wednesday in a case brought by two community members against Police Chief Mike Koval.

Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores and Sharon Irwin filed complaints against Koval regarding the chief’s behavior at a controversial June 7 City Council meeting, where the two women spoke during a public forum. Irwin is the grandmother of Tony Robinson, a teenager shot and killed by MPD officer Matt Kenny in March 2015.

Koval, Irwin and Kilfoy-Flores testified in the quasi-judicial hearing Thursday, along with five other witnesses, three on behalf of the complainants and two for Koval.

In the complaints, Irwin alleged Koval violated departmental code of conduct, MPD’s standard operating procedures as well as the city’s administrative rules, totaling 37 counts. Kilfoy-Flores argued on 13 counts that Koval violated the MPD’s code of conduct and standard operating procedure.

“We as a community have high expectations for our chief of police,” Al Matano, who is representing Irwin and Kilfoy-Flores, said in his opening statement. “Our complaint outlines the expectation of behavior codified in the code of conduct and describes how the chief of police’s actions fall short.”

Prior to Irwin and Kilfoy-Flores speaking at the June 7 meeting, they encountered Paula Fitzsimmons, who spoke in support of Madison police at the council meeting alongside her husband, Steve. Irwin said she heard Paula characterize her experience speaking to the council as “reverse racism” because she was asked to stop speaking. Irwin said she "invited herself" to the conversation.

Koval then led the Fitzsimmonses to the main lobby of the City-County Building and continued to a lower level of the facility. Irwin, Kilfoy-Flores and another man followed Koval with Irwin asking for clarity on the investigation of her grandson Tony Robinson’s death.

Koval and the city are involved in a lawsuit with the Robinson family regarding his death, and the chief is advised not to discuss the matter.

During the interaction between Irwin and Koval, the chief called Irwin a “raging lunatic” twice. Koval confirmed his words during testimony.

“The chief of police has to model more exceptional behavior,” Koval said. “I did not retain the composure I would have liked.”

Irwin and Kilfoy-Flores said Koval put his hand on his hip by his gun holster.

"To me, it felt very unnecessary. I felt like he was exerting his power, and it felt threatening," Kilfoy-Flores said.

Koval forcefully refuted the claim and said he has not fired his weapon once in his 33 years in the law enforcement field.

"It's absolutely preposterous," Koval said.

Lester Pines, attorney for Koval, argued that Irwin’s behavior followed a history of confrontation. For about a year after Robinson’s death, Irwin would yell outside of the MPD’s offices.

“The behavior he was responding to was not merely behavior on that occasion, but behavior on previous occasions with regard to her participation in yelling and screaming outside of the Madison Police Department on Wilson Street, outside the administrative offices,” Pines said in his opening statement.

Koval described Irwin’s actions at these times as a “mixture of angst, grief and anger.”

Irwin said she directed those comments toward Matt Kenny, the officer who shot Robinson.

"I am yelling about, again I have a lot of respect and honor for police officers, if you choose that path you must stand a certain way," Irwin said. 

After the exchange, Kilfoy-Flores and Irwin spoke during the public forum at the City Council meeting. Koval struck a table three times and stood up while Irwin was speaking. Irwin said she interpreted this as frustration directed toward her as a result of the previous interaction and it triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I felt he did it because I was up there, and he didn't want me to speak and I thought that was rude,” Irwin said.

Koval said he has been frustrated with decorum of council meetings, specifically the adherence to the three-minute public speaking time limit. He said he hit the table to prompt Common Council President Mike Verveer to bring order to the meeting.

“On many fronts, I feel like the Madison Police Department had been cast in a very negative or adversarial light that had not been sufficiently vetted by our officials,” Koval said.

Matano said at the beginning of his opening statement that the community’s relationship with the police department was “born in tragedy.” Much of the evidence heard related back to the officer officer-involved shooting of Robinson, which has raised tension between the Madison community and MPD.

Irwin said she is still seeking clarity about Robinson's death.

“I just want the truth,” Irwin said. “ I just want the truth to be told, and it’s that simple for me.”

Koval and the MPD will forever be linked to that incident.

“She is going to have to live with the pain and the loss of a premature death,” Koval said. “I am going to going to have to live with the pain of knowing that her grandson was killed.”

Both parties will have the opportunity to respond in writing before the commission reviews and deliberates sometime after Jan. 23. 

The PFC has the authority to suspend, demote or fire Koval if it finds him at fault.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.