Koval hearing

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval testifies during a complaint hearing against him before the Police and Fire Commission at the Madison Municipal Building on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. In a decision released Tuesday, Koval was admonished but not disciplined for calling Sharon Irwin, the grandmother of a Madison teen fatally shot by police, a "raging lunatic" and was cleared of two other misconduct charges. In the foreground are the complainants' attorney Al Matano and another complainant, Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores. 

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval was admonished but not disciplined for calling the grandmother of a Madison teen fatally shot by police a “raging lunatic” and was cleared of two other misconduct charges by the Madison Police and Fire Commission.

Koval’s lawyer said he was satisfied with the decision issued Tuesday because Koval had admitted the comment was a mistake. “It couldn’t have gone better,” said attorney Lester Pines.

The decision followed charges made by Sharon Irwin and Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores that Koval violated the police department’s “standards of conduct” when he pounded on a desk during a contentious City Council meeting last June, made the comment about Irwin in a stairwell afterward and appeared to make a threatening gesture by reaching toward his sidearm. They asked the PFC to suspend Koval.

“They failed in that attempt so, yes, that is a victory,” said Pines.

Koval, in a statement, said the PFC’s decision was “greatly appreciated.” Pines said Koval was ready to move on. “Mike has a big job to do and there are a lot of things on his plate and he needs to be concentrating on that, not (the charges),” he said.

Irwin said she was moving on, too. But the grandmother of Tony Robinson, the 19-year-old fatally shot March 6, 2015, by Madison police Officer Matt Kenny, said her next step would be to ask the PFC to fire Kenny. While Kenny has been exonerated in the shooting, the city’s insurance firm settled a civil lawsuit last month brought by Robinson’s family for $3.35 million.

Irwin said she believes Kenny, as well as Koval, are covering up some of the facts in the shooting death of her grandson, whose funeral was held two years ago Tuesday.

“I know people look at me now and think I’m a raging lunatic, that I’m just crazy and I should just let this go,” she said. “All that hurts. But I’m not trying to change their opinions of me. I just want everybody to look at the facts. That is what my next goal is.”

In its decision, the commission wrote that it agreed with Koval’s admission during testimony that his comment about Irwin was inappropriate and unacceptable and found he had engaged in misconduct.

Koval made the comment after Irwin tried to join a conversation he was having with two other people. Koval then walked to a stairwell and was followed by Irwin, who continued to try to talk with Koval. As Koval continued down the stairs, somebody suggested to Irwin that she should make an appointment to talk with the police chief. He then responded that he wouldn’t make an appointment with her and that she was a “raging lunatic.”

The PFC called Koval’s outburst “an aberration, not part of a pattern” and credited him for making a public apology. Since its only available options for discipline were suspension, demotion or disqualification, the PFC decided against disciplining Koval because “the chief’s misconduct in the one incident was not of such a nature to warrant any of those extraordinary disciplinary actions.”

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Irwin said she was happy the PFC found Koval guilty of misconduct but added that there was “something not quite right” with the PFC’s decision.

“If you’re the chief of police and you are the leader not just of the police department but of the community and you don’t follow your own policy and procedures, what do you think the people below you are going to do?” she said. “They are going to follow your lead. He should be held accountable for the city employees and the police department.”

As for the claim made by Kilfoy-Flores that she perceived a motion of Koval’s hand toward his hip as a threatening gesture to his sidearm, the PFC wrote, “we simply are not persuaded that such a gesture was made by (Koval).”

The PFC also wrote that a videotape of the council proceedings in June showed that Koval’s behavior was “not unreasonable or indecorous, did not violate any Police Department rule or standard, and did not cause a disruption to the council proceedings. It is noteworthy that (Koval) was not admonished by the council president.”

Koval, in his statement, said it was important to note that everyone who works for the Madison Police Department — including the chief — is held to a high standard of conduct and operating procedures.

“During my entire career in law enforcement (including my tenure as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation), I have never had a sustained complaint,” Koval said. “I do regret my momentary lapse of self-discipline in not speaking to a citizen in a respectful way. I accepted responsibility for my actions then, and now, and an apology was already extended to the petitioner(s) last year. As your chief, I remain completely committed to leading one of the best police departments in the country, to the best of my abilities.”

After the charges were filed, Pines said he tried to set up a meeting with Irwin, Kilfoy-Flores, Koval and a facilitator so they could talk through their dispute and find a resolution.

“They didn’t want to resolve it privately, and when you do that you run the risk of testifying and having people not believe what you said and that’s precisely, for the most part, what happened with the commission,” Pines said.

Irwin hasn’t accepted Koval’s public apology because she said Koval should have apologized to her personally before the charge were filed.

“He wasn’t sorry when he said it. He was only sorry after he got caught saying it,” Irwin said. “If he had come to me directly three days after he (made the comment) and said, ‘I’m sorry, I was just having a hard day,’ it would have been a different story. But he chose to apologize after it became public. It didn’t feel good enough because it didn’t seem real.”

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Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.