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Claim for $2.8 million, precursor to lawsuit, filed against city and police in use of force case

Claim for $2.8 million, precursor to lawsuit, filed against city and police in use of force case

Scales of Justice

Lawyers for a 17-year-old boy and his mother on Thursday filed a notice of claim against the city of Madison, the Madison Police Department and four officers over force used in June to detain the teen, who was in the midst of a mental health crisis when officers attempted to handcuff him at his home in June.

The three-page notice is the legally required precursor to a lawsuit, should the city reject the claim. The claim seeks compensatory and punitive damages of $2.8 million.

The city has 120 days to act on the claim. If it takes no action, the claim is considered disallowed. Once a claim is disallowed, a lawsuit can be filed in court.

Video of the incident taken inside the home was shared widely on social media and showed Sgt. Joe Engler striking the black teen three times on the head as other officers tried to restrain the teen.

Police reports said the teen was sent home from West High School after threatening staff, and once home he had threatened his foster father.

According to the notice of claim, filed by Madison attorneys Charles Giesen and Jessica Giesen, the boy had returned to his home on Whitlock Road, and Madison police were dispatched because of a reported mental health breakdown. However, the claim states, no specially trained mental health officers were sent to the home.

The boy was in the shower when officers arrived.

“He completed his shower and dressed, and was peaceably walking through the room when one of the officers grabbed (the teen) and violently slammed him against a wall,” the claim states. “That officer and others then threw (the teen) onto a couch, immobilized him, placed a pillowcase over his face, and proceeded to beat him in the head as he was held down by multiple officers.”

The claim then references a UW-Madison Police review of the incident, which according to the claim shows that the officers’ conduct “did not conform to accepted police training and standards.”

As a result of the incident, the claim states, the teen “suffered physical and emotional pain and suffering and the aggravation of pre-existing disabilities” that are likely to continue and require ongoing medical treatment. The claim states the teen “suffers and will likely permanently suffer” from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The UW police review, released by the Madison Police Department last week, found Madison police actions were “legally justifiable” but also said officers missed opportunities that might have led to a better outcome. Among them, one of the first officers on the scene, Andrew Slawek, should not have “waved off” Engler when he first arrived to provide backup, and that Engler should not have left.

UW-Madison Police Lt. John McCaughtry, who conducted the review, also noted that documentation was lacking about whether Slawek and another officer, Chad Joswiak, tried to engage the teen in conversation, and that an opportunity had existed for the officers to “proactively engage the subject in dialog.”

He also faulted the officers for not communicating enough with each other about how they intended to handle the teen.

Strikes to the teen’s head by Engler were legally permissible, McCaughtry wrote, but better alternatives such as strikes to other parts of his body less prone to injury might have existed.

In addition to the city, the Police Department and Engler, Slawek and Joswiak, the claim is also addressed to Officer Ted Fondrk, who was among the officers holding the teen down.

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