Officers involved in mall arrest won’t face sanctions

Pat Kempfer, Staff Writer

On the afternoon of June 21, Madison Police arrested 18-year-old Genele Laird outside the food court of East Towne Mall.

Laird, a Madison woman, was accused of brandishing a knife and making threats against employees and security staff and was detained by MPD Officers Richard Friday and Andrew Muir in an event captured on video, which subsequently went viral on YouTube.

Viewers of the video voiced concerns over whether the officers used excessive force, especially given Laird’s size, gender and race, African American.

According to the police incident report, Laird had been upset, claiming a Taco Bell employee had stolen her phone, and refused to leave the mall’s premises until it was returned.

When officers arrived, Laird was argumentative and noncompliant to their orders, and they responded using combative moves taken from mixed martial arts, including stomach punches and kicks. In addition, the officers used an electronic control device, more commonly called a Taser.

On Sept. 1, the decision was made by Dane County Deputy Sheriffs Kelly Rehwoldt and Dawn Brooks, after an independent investigation, that the “level of force used was reasonable, necessary and appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances.”

According to Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the officers’ attorney, said in a statement Thursday the reviews were “exhaustive and appropriate” and has encouraged the public to read the report.

Sgt. Minh Duc Tieu, an expert in defense and arrest tactics for the Madison Police Department, reviewed Friday and Muir’s use of force, finding the officers’ actions “appropriate, justified and consistent” with MPD’s training and policy.

The MPD report, which can be found on the Department’s website states that by Sgt. Tieu’s judgment, “in light of the facts and totality of circumstances confronting them in this incident …the actions of Officers Friday and Muir were objectively reasonable.”

According to Julia Haseleu, PhD and Social Psychologist instructor in the Psychology department at Madison College, many police departments are becoming more militarized, both in “toys” and training.

“What you have in this country is a police force that is increasingly joined by ‘military people,’ coming back from the war (in Afghanistan) and have been trained in the military to use their equipment. You also have police departments that are receiving grant money and military equipment,” said Haseleu. “Just like any other profession, if you have a tool in your toolbox, you’re more likely to use it.”

Former Madison Police Chief, David Couper, said in an interview with The Capital Times, “I don’t care if it’s legal, I don’t care if that’s the way officers are trained. What we saw in that that video has got to be considered totally inappropriate. We can’t be training police this way.”

At a press conference held back in June, Chief Mike Koval stood by his officers’ actions, saying, “When she resisted the attempts to be put under custody, that’s what began this downward turn despite repeated attempts that were verbally toned and directed her to stop resisting and put her hands behind her back.”

He closed his statement by adding, “But for the fact of their willingness to take that sort of a courageous look that would otherwise be a traditional perfunctory criminal intake, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Laird has not been convicted of any crime. Instead, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne decided to refer her to the county’s Community Restorative Court.

Upon completion, the three felonies and three misdemeanors she was charged with will be dropped.