Dane County Supervisor Leland Pan responded Thursday to Madison Police Chief Mike Koval’s comments that he acted irresponsibly by allowing protesters to enter the City-County Building hours after 19-year-old Tony Robinson was shot by one of Koval’s officers March 6.
“It’s problematic when a police chief is trying to interfere with the jobs of elected representatives who represent the community and are community leaders,” Pan said. “It’s not behavior becoming of what I would like to see in a police chief.”
Pan gave roughly 100 protesters access to the City-County Building the night Robinson was killed, according to a letter from Madison Police Chief Michael Koval obtained by the DeForest Times-Tribune. Pan used his county supervisor ID to enter a parking garage when he told officers he was on official business. He then opened the doors, allowing the crowd to enter the building.
Koval called Pan’s actions “inexcusable” in the March 9 letter to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and said his office is investigating whether they warrant pressing criminal charges.
“Let me be clear, County Supervisor Pan's actions put everyone's safety at risk—the protestors, police officers and every employee working in the building,” Koval wrote. “This is inexcusable.”
Koval wrote the crowd was heard chanting “kill the cops” and “we have guns too” and that MPD was forced to divert resources to address the protesters.
Pan said Koval’s letter misrepresented the crowd that night.
“I think the community themselves are very committed to keeping peace,” Pan said. “I feel that it is appropriate for the community to be angry and to have a space to grieve.”
Two demonstrators who had been at Williamson Street after Robinson’s death were being held by police for questioning, Pan said. He added he let protesters in to support those individuals, who he says were being held without attorneys present.
“I think there was an overwhelming urge to be in a position where they could feel like they were supporting the families of those being held,” Pan said. “I know that most of the night that the protesters were almost silent and just sitting in.”
Pan said Koval’s letter was another attempt to “bully” elected officials into politically aligning themselves with the Madison Police Department, referencing a separate letter Koval sent Wednesday to Madison alders asking them to be more vocal in their support of police officers.
“I think [Koval’s message in the letter to alders] is disingenuous,” Pan said. “I think he’s trying to paint the police force as the victim, and the fact of the matter is that in this tragedy, it is not a police officer who is the victim … It’s not a good sign as to Chief Koval’s ability to handle issues of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”
Parisi said in a response dated March 13 that his office had corroborated Koval’s version of events with surveillance footage from the building but noted that, because Pan was elected, his office had no authority to discipline him.
“Because County Supervisors are independently elected officials, the County Executive has no authority over the conduct of members of the County Board and may not sanction a County Board Supervisor for inappropriate conduct,” Parisi said in his response.
Police collected and processed Pan's keys and county access card and are reviewing the evidence to determine whether to press charges, Koval said in his letter to Parisi. Parisi wrote in his response he would forward Koval's letter to the County Board of Supervisors for any further action.