Ben Masel, who was peppersprayed and arrested while collecting campaign signatures at the Memorial Union Terrace during the summer of '06, took UW-Madison police officer Michael Mansavage to court on a federal civil rights suit. Though the trial yesterday apparently ended in a hung jury, it also served to bring out several new, incriminating details about how the officers conducted themselves. Barry Orton, writing over at Waxing America, has a good commentary about this:
...officer Michael Mansavage first missed Masel and instead peppersprayed his partner John McCaughtry, who was holding Masel by the arm at the time. Apparently, once McCaughtry and Mansavage had wrestled Masel into a face-down position on the ground, with McCaughtry's knee on Masel's back, Mansavage then peppersprayed Masel in the face. Mansavage also threatened to use a Taser on Masel for not putting his arm behind his back to be handcuffed fast enough, when the arm was, in fact, trapped under Masel's body.This seems like a pretty clear case, and one that will likely result in Masel eventually being awarded some serious damages. Several folks, including Orton, have pointed out that the city and police could have avoided the bad press and wallet-emptying had they conducted themselves properly in the first place. Taken along with all the recent Taser incidents and questions about how quick officers are to use them/how well they're trained with them, it's hard for folks not to feel some serious doubt about the very organization that's supposed to be protecting us and our civil liberties.
The officers' descriptions of their actions made them look totally unprofessional, and strengthened Masel's claims. The multiple times both officers had to be taken through deposition statements that disagreed with their trial testimony didn't help either.
Former Madison police chief David Couper recently penned a thoughtful piece for The Daily Page that makes the call for better training, increased hiring standards, and creative thinking. It's well worth a read.
What do you think?
In the meantime, I'm going to be attempting to track Masel down for an interview about the case. If that goes well, it should be posted to dane101.com in the coming days, so be sure to check it out if you're interested.