UWPD police release body camera, surveillance video of student’s arrest

The University of Wisconsin-Madison police chief apologized Friday to students and a professor after two of her officers arrested a student on vandalism charges after removing him from a class.

UWPD police officers arrested Denzel J. McDonald, 21, in connection to at least 11 instances of graffiti on campus on Thursday. Officers located McDonald in a classroom in the Humanities building on campus after saying they’d attempted to contact him for two weeks.

Chief Sue Riseling issued a statement on the department’s website apologizing to the students and professor who were interrupted during class.

“Unless it is an urgent safety issue, it’s our normal procedure to wait until the end of class to visit with the student,” Riseling said. “It’s our goal to minimize disruptions and to not interfere with our campus’ learning environment.”

Riseling said the officer scanned the classroom before entering and “did not see anyone standing at the front of the room or lecturing.” She said he mistakenly believed the class had not yet started, so he asked the student to leave the room to speak with them in the hallway. She said an assistant professor then identified herself and spoke with the officer.

The chief said the officer’s actions are under review. The department released four body camera and surveillance videos related to the incident Friday night. On Saturday, the department released three more videos, including an overhead view of the officers’ squad car and body camera video of McDonald’s jail booking.

Riseling also offered comments on the arrest itself, after saying questions had been raised about whether the content of the graffiti tagging influenced the police response. The tagging on campus had been anti-racist, including “White Supremacy is a disease.”

“Graffiti is criminal vandalism and we act on these crimes regardless of the content,” Riseling’s statement said. “With every report we receive, we thoroughly investigate, work to identify individuals who were involved, and when appropriate, take action to hold the individuals responsible for their criminal action(s).”

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank also released a statement regarding the incident Friday saying police practices regarding entering classrooms were not followed.

“I was upset too when I learned about his incident,” Blank wrote. “But I do not want this incident to stain the reputation of the UWPD, which has worked effectively on this campus for many years. And it must also be acknowledged that the student’s alleged actions involved criminal activity.”

McDonald is free out on bail.

The professor and students inside the classroom took to social media to criticize police for how they handled the event. News 3 spoke with Oliver Whiting, one of McDonald’s classmates.

“This was a single instance of somebody being singled out, humiliated in front of their peers, and that’s not the way we should treat students,” Whiting said. “It’s definitely not the way we should be handling issues of race on campus.”