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Investigation concludes Madison police sergeant's behavior in incident was 'objectively reasonable'

MADISON, Wis. - An investigation concluded that a Madison police sergeant's behavior in a June incident was "objectively reasonable," according to statements released Friday.

A statement from the Madison Police Department said officers were originally sent to a west side residence to take a 17-year-old boy into custody. He was described as having concerning and disruptive behavior, which led to him leaving school early that day. 

Madison police said officers made contact with the teen after his foster father spoke with a school resource officer and asked for police assistance. 

Police said the teen resisted officers and spit on one of them. A Madison police sergeant came to help and hit the teen's head three times. Officers were then able to put him in handcuffs. The teen was not hurt, but one officer suffered wrist and shoulder injuries that led to several months of restricted duty. 

The statement said the teen's foster father called Madison police a few hours after the incident to express concerns about what happened. He also provided video to show what happened. 

The sergeant who had been involved was placed on restrictive duty, and MPD immediately launched an investigation into the incident. 

The investigation consisted of interviews with officers and others involved, along with reviewing the videos and other evidence. The teen declined to be interviewed. 

MPD also asked an outside agency, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department, to review the incident.

The investigation revealed that the sergeant had two minor violations of MPD's standard operating procedure. However, the officer's use of force was deemed reasonable, which was consistent with UWPD's review.

As a result of the investigation, the statement said the MPD will be taking the following steps for future incidents:

  • Personnel involved in the incident will have follow-up coaching and training to identify areas for​​​​​​ improvement and recognize decision-points that could have resulted in a better outcome.
  • Madison police will review internal use-of-force training to identify strategies to improve outcomes and provide appropriate training to department personnel.
  • The department will be sending internal use of force trainers to external trainings focused on team tactics and other strategies to reduce the need for application of higher levels of physical force.
  • The department will provide updated use of force training to all commissioned personnel this fall and again in early 2020.
  • The department will review applicable standard operating procedures and evaluate if modifications​​​​​​​ should occur to align with the training described above or provide additional guidance to MPD personnel.
  • The department is pursuing training to provide officers with updated information and skills to improve​​​​​​​ interactions with youth. This training -- anticipated in 2020 -- will address adolescent brain​​​​​​​ development/behavior, de-escalation strategies, and working cooperatively with other service​​​​​​​ providers.

In a separate statement, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway discussed how there must be accountability when incidents like these occur.

"It is my fundamental belief that governmental entities, including the police, must hold ourselves
accountable for the quality of our interactions with the public," Rhodes-Conway said. "When those interactions are with our most vulnerable community members - such as young people of color suffering from mental illness - that responsibility becomes a moral imperative."

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