UWPD review clears officers who entered class to question, arrest student in graffiti investigation

MADISON, Wis. - The two officers who entered a university classroom in April to question a suspect acted within their authority, University of Wisconsin-Madison police said Thursday.

UWPD said in a news release that it had completed its administrative review in the controversial arrest of UW student Denzel McDonald on April 14.

Police had been investigating a series of graffiti incidents over about six months on campus, and officers had tried to get in contact with McDonald several times over the course of two weeks, according to the report.

McDonald was in class the morning of April 14 when officers Matt Schirmacher and Justin Zurbuchen found him; however, the officers said that based on their observations of the classroom, it didn't appear class was "actively in session," the report said. The officers entered the room and asked McDonald to speak outside the classroom, then outside the building. McDonald was later arrested on suspicion of 11 criminal counts of graffiti and one count of disorderly conduct for threatening a bystander. McDonald pleaded guilty to one count of vandalism in July and was fined, online court records show.

Then-Chief Sue Riseling apologized for the class disruption and ordered the administrative review.

A week after the classroom incident, UW students and staff held a walkout to protest the classroom disruption and arrest. Freedom Inc., an organization that addresses issues facing communities of color in Dane County, demanded the officers and administrators resign and the charges against McDonald be dropped. The administrative review concluded that Schirmacher and Zurbuchen acted within their authorities and within UWPD policies in the April 14 incident.

The administrative review also offered several recommendations for the department, which UWPD said it has adopted. The recommendations said the department should:

  • Develop a procedure and accompanying training regarding entering classes to make arrests
  • Assure that officers are required to brief supervisors and command staff before any planned arrest from a classroom
  • Revise the training process to ensure the exposure of staff in training to the day shift and the afternoon and night shift
  • Train "Officers Schirmacher and Zurbuchen to call for a police supervisor in situations where an issue is likely to benefit from supervisory intervention"

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