Wednesday, January 28, 2009

COPS: Madison

As 25 new cadets officially join the Madison police force this Sunday, they walk into an increasingly troubled environment.

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.

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.
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.

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 in the coming days, so be sure to check it out if you're interested.


Oliver Steinberg said...

The spectacle of uniformed police violently interfering with citizens seeking to exercise their right to vote---an incident which was shocking to the entire Madison community in 1965 when it took place in Selma, Alabama---is now accepted as routine even in Madison. "Step out of line, the Man comes and takes you away."

Anonymous said...

Don't tase me, bro.

Anonymous said...

You do realize that the UW Police Dept and the City of Madison Police Dept are two completely separate organizations, right? The new Madison officers attended a different academy, have different rules, and follow different policies and procedures.

Emily said...

I do realize that, strangely enough. What I'm pointing out is that both have had problems with excessive force issues, and both have a lot of work to do on that front. Plus, plenty of people just see "cop" and not "UW cop" or "city cop" - so when it comes down to it, for the public, it doesn't matter much.

Anonymous said...

"...plenty of people just see "cop" and not "UW cop" or "city cop" - so when it comes down to it, for the public, it doesn't matter much."

I'm very disappointed in that, Emily. That's like me comparing you to Texas Hold 'Em and substituting "blogger" for "cop". You took a news item about Madison police recruits, and went off to the races about a case involving UW and Town of Madison police.

Emily said...

You're still misunderstanding me. My post was about the general environment for cops (town, city, campus). There have been excessive force cases across the board, and I simply used the most current one to illustrate the point. I wasn't saying, personally, that UW cops are the same as city cops.

My comment, however, was to say that I believe some people don't differentiate. Right or wrong, they believe that cops are cops, and that's how they come at cases of alleged misconduct. It's important to keep that in mind when discussing things like this. Public perception and trust is an important issue when it comes to law enforcement organizations.

V said...

UW cops are actually more dangerous because they are state employees and thus know they will get a whole team of attorneys from the attorney general's office to defend them when citizens sue.

There have been other incidents of abuse by UWPD in the past couple of years, but Masel's is the only one making headlines because he was a Senate candidate at the time they violated him.

The Lost Albatross