Dane County Sheriff axes food slot hole virtual court appearance for defendants

MADISON, Wis. — After our story aired Monday about a group of Dane County court observers advocating for defendants to be seen in full camera view for their virtual court appearances instead of through the food slot hole in their jail cell, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney axed the method.

“We were thrilled to see people appear in full view,” said court observer Sandi Reinardy.

Mahoney told News 3 Now that defendants are now being taken into a legal visiting room where they can be seen in full camera view. But his decision was not in response to our story nor the concerns of the court observers

“It’s entirely driven by our low numbers of COVID and all of our staff have been vaccinated,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney said he understood and felt the same concerns that the court observers expressed; that appearing through a food slot hole can seem dehumanizing. But, he said the decision to switch methods was entirely based on the fact that it’s now safer to do so.

“People were in 14-day quarantine until they tested negative three times in a row,” Mahoney said.

Reinardy said she first noticed the change Monday, but another court observer she works with was taken aback when even after the switch was made, there were still people appearing in food slot holes.

In a video clip shared with News 3 Now, a bailiff can be heard on camera explaining why a defendant was still appearing this way. The bailiff said, “He has a behavioral issue so he’s not allowed to come out of his cell.”

“That raises some additional concerns because it sounds like a subjective measure,” Reinardy said.

Mahoney explained that a behavioral issue could be anything from the defendant being suicidal, intoxicated, combative, or going through a mental health crisis and posing a safety risk.

“We’re trying to get them to court as quickly as possible,” Mahoney said. “The alternative is we delay the court and that is not our first choice.”

Reinardy said even though most people have been appearing in full camera view this week, court observers still feel that everyone should be given the right to a full camera view.

“We will continue to watch and see if we’re seeing this issue of behavioral issue cited more frequently, then we will continue to show up and advocate at meetings and ask that this be made available for everyone,” Reinardy said.

Mahoney said if COVID cases spike again in the jail, they will revert back to having defendants appear through food slot holes.