Madison police restraining teenager

Footage from a home security camera shows Madison police restraining and punching a 17-year-old male with mental health issues whom they described as exhibiting "threatening behavior."

Madison police are conducting an internal review after a black teenager, who reportedly was “exhibiting threatening behavior” during a mental health crisis, was restrained and punched multiple times by officers inside his home Monday, with part of the incident captured on a home security camera.

Brandi Grayson, executive director of the advocacy organization Urban Triage and an outspoken local critic of police, posted three videos on Facebook Wednesday with a “trigger warning” due to “violence, black child.” The videos, each approximately 30 seconds long, captured portions of the incident in the teen’s home.

In a statement, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and City Council President Shiva Bidar-Sielaff and Vice President Barbara Harrington-McKinney called for a thorough investigation of “this very disturbing video.”

“The key to public confidence in the integrity of the investigative process is full transparency after the fact,” the statement said. “We are committed to a higher level of transparency and taking a proactive, problem-solving approach to the difficult issue of handling mental health crises.”

Madison police and Journey Mental Health had been working together and determined the 17-year-old was “exhibiting threatening behavior, consistent with someone in a mental health crisis,” said police spokesman Joel DeSpain.

The teen was under a Chapter 51 commitment, which allows for someone in a mental health crisis to be committed to a hospital, and officers went to his home to take him into custody, DeSpain said.

Grayson, who said she’s spoken with the teen’s guardian and family, who provided her the videos, said the West High School junior became agitated at school and was cussing at staff when he left to go home.

The teen returned home and continued to cuss at his guardian, according to Grayson, who said the incident was relayed to her by the guardian. She said the guardian and a workman were present for the incident.

The teen was experiencing a mental health crisis and went to take a shower in an attempt to calm down, she said.

The videos, which are blurry, show the teen walking down a hallway away from police officers, who follow him into a living room. He appears to grab something from the couch before turning around and then walks past one officer.

The officer then pushes him against a wall and a struggle ensues before the officer and teenager fall onto another couch.

“As the officers moved to take the subject into custody, he refused to comply with their requests and subsequently resisted handcuffing,” DeSpain said.

Grayson said the teen picked up his cellphone from the couch and was leaving the living room to grab socks in anticipation he was going to be taken away by police.

She said the guardian reported the teen to be cooperative with police and was not resisting until he was pushed against the wall.

In the video, three officers appear to restrain the teen on the couch when another officer walks in with a spit hood — a mesh-like material used by police when people are attempting to spit or bite — and puts it over the teen’s head.

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The video appears to show the officer that placed the hood over the teen’s head punching him three times.

“They only escalated the situation,” Grayson said. “As the guardian stated, there was no need to escalate the situation because the child was very cooperative, he just wanted to go upstairs” to get socks.

“One officer delivered several strikes during the encounter in an attempt to gain control of the subject,” DeSpain said. He said a “mesh spit hood” was used because the teen was spitting at officers.

“The subject reported no injuries to medical personnel and had no visible injuries at the time of the encounter,” DeSpain said.

Grayson said police were called about the student by West High’s school-based officer.

Charges deferred

The teenager was taken to a local hospital before being taken to Winnebago Mental Health Institute, DeSpain said. Grayson said he was still at Winnebago in Oshkosh on Wednesday.

DeSpain said “there is probable cause” to charge the teen with multiple criminal offenses but a decision on whether to pursue charges is being deferred until the teen goes through further mental health evaluation and assessment.

Four officers appear throughout the videos.

DeSpain said one officer had an injured thumb and rotator cuff from the struggle.

Department effort

In recent years, the Madison Police Department has taken steps to better understand and respond to calls involving people with mental health issues, which a consultant’s 2017 report on the department’s policies and practices said placed it “ahead of many other law enforcement agencies.”

The consultant offered several recommendations regarding mental health, including cross-training police instructors to “run and debrief mental health crisis scenarios” emphasizing the importance of deescalation.

Police were contacted Monday afternoon about allegations of excessive force involving the teen, DeSpain said. The department’s Professional Standards and Internal Affairs Unit is investigating the incident.

The department “is releasing this information in an attempt to provide context and keep our community informed,” DeSpain said.

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