The former DeForest police chief who resigned in August after he was heard making racist comments in a YouTube video has been hired by the town of Madison Police Department as a part-time patrol officer.

Town of Madison Police Chief Scott Gregory approved the hiring even though he was among Daniel Furseth’s most vocal critics after the video made 11 years ago surfaced earlier this year.

“Did he make a mistake 11 years ago? Absolutely,” Gregory said. “Should he pay for that mistake the rest of his life? I don’t think so.”

In 2007, Furseth, 50, shot the 36-second video of a group of five well-dressed black men walking from their car to a Steak ‘n Shake restaurant while Furseth mockingly narrates the action in a stereotypical urban black voice.

An investigation for the village found the video was posted on YouTube last December by Alexei Strelchenko, a former intern for the DeForest police.

DeForest village administrator Steve Fahlgren described Furseth as “embarrassed, ashamed and frustrated” when he made Fahlgren aware of the video in May. Fahlgren immediately put Furseth on paid leave and the village hired a private consultant to conduct an investigation.

Furseth resigned on Aug. 23 after accepting a severance package from the village for $102,000. The cost of the severance package was less than what the village would have spent to fire Furseth, village president Judd Blau said at the time.

Gregory said he was not concerned Furseth’s hiring would create any lack of trust with town of Madison residents. Instead of reacting to the video, “I think the community will react to how he treats them,” Gregory said.

But as president of the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association, Gregory called out Furseth’s actions in a letter to media outlets in August, saying they did not reflect the work departments do to build trust among the public.

He never named Furseth in the letter, but Gregory wrote that “acts of racism cannot be tolerated, and law enforcement officers, from the chief to the newly hired officer, must live up to the ideals incorporated in the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor and Code of Ethics.”

Furseth started his new job Monday after going through normal hiring procedures that included interviews with a four-person police panel, the town’s police and fire commission and the chief, according to Gregory.

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Gregory reviewed all of the village of DeForest’s reports and the results of the investigation by Mark Beckner, a consultant from Firestone, Colorado, before he gave his approval to hire Furseth. He said what stood out for him was Beckner’s assessment that he could find nothing, other than the video, to suggest that Furseth held racist views. Beckner also wrote in his report that he could not find evidence of overt or explicit racial bias within the DeForest Police Department.

Beckner added that some potential red flags exist that could indicate some implicit racial bias in how the department operates. “(But) these red flags are not proof of racial bias,” he said.

Has to prove himself

Furseth was in training Thursday and could not be reached for comment. But Gregory said Furseth has continued to apologize and remains remorseful over the video, which he understands has had a negative impact on the village of DeForest and the area.

“As we looked at the investigation and looked at Dan’s experience and what he could bring to the town of Madison as a patrol officer ... we decided we’ll give him another chance,” Gregory said. “We’ll forgive what he did 11 years ago.”

Furseth was chosen over one other applicant who was interviewed for the position and joins a department that has 14 full-time officers and three part-time officers, Gregory said. He will make $27.10 an hour.

Like all new police officers, Furseth must complete a required 16-week field training and evaluation program before he can work any shifts during a probation period, Gregory said. He also will wear a body camera while on duty, which is required of all town of Madison officers. “So there will be plenty of times to see if there’s any bias in his policing and how he treats people,” Gregory said.

The bigger concern within the department is how Furseth can make the transition from police chief to patrol officer. “I told him he has to prove to his new peers that he’s capable of doing the job,” Gregory said.

Gregory sees the hiring as beneficial for Furseth and the town. He said Furseth plans to quit in 2022 when the town is annexed by the cities of Fitchburg and Madison, so the town has four years to take advantage of his experience.

“I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to make the town look good,” Gregory said. “I know he wants to end his career on a strong note.”

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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.