Fifteen activists and community leaders filed civil rights complaints Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney, seeking investigations into the arrest of Genele Laird by Madison police on June 21, and into use-of-force practices of the Madison Police Department.
In an arrest that was captured on video that spread quickly over the internet, Laird, 18, was seen struggling with police before she was subdued using punches, knee strikes and a Taser. Police also put a mesh spit hood over her head because she was allegedly spitting at officers.
Laird was arrested outside East Towne Mall after officers went there to investigate a call that Laird was “out of control” and threatening employees at the mall with a knife after she said her cellphone had been stolen.
The struggle with officers began when Laird tried to walk away from police but was told she needed to stay.
In a letter to U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil, the group — which includes former Urban League of Greater Madison CEO Kaleem Caire, Young, Gifted and Black leader Brandi Grayson and other local activists — is asking that the Justice Department conduct a criminal investigation into the treatment of Laird by Madison Police Officer Andrew Muir, one of the officers who helped subdue Laird.
“It is our position that there is NO JUSTIFICATION FOR THIS and that this display of unbridled and unsolicited violence by an officer upon an unarmed citizen and child meets a criminal standard,” one of the letters to Vaudreuil reads. “We do not trust our police department to conduct an objective, impartial, independent investigation, nor do we trust the (Dane County) Sheriff’s Department to reverse the decision by the Madison Police Department to render a de facto decision to hold Genele accountable for her treatment by the MPD officers who brutally arrested her before the sheriff’s investigation is even complete.”
The group is also seeking a more general investigation of Madison police deadly force practices, citing the recent shooting deaths of Tony Robinson and Michael Schumacher.
The letter also cites Laird’s treatment.
“This was a textbook case of excessive use of force, but the chief of police says that their behavior was standard practice,” the letter reads. “We believe that the Madison Police Department has established a set of standards and practices that are detrimental to the health of African-American citizens and other citizens of color.”
Laird was jailed for two days but then referred to the Dane County Restorative Court program, in lieu of criminal charges. If she completes the program, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said, she will not be charged with a crime for her actions at East Towne.
Vaudreauil is out of the office this week. Spokeswoman Myra Longfield said that complaints like this are generally forwarded for review to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington.
Madison Police Captain Brian Ackeret said the city has not received the complaints and cannot comment at this point.