Tag Archives: shooting

Miami officers fired for ‘jokes’ about target practice in primarily black neighborhoods

Three police officers were fired for making comments on a group chat about using Miami’s primarily black neighborhoods for target practice.

Officers Kevin Bergnes, Miguel Valdes and Bruce Alcin were fired on Dec. 23, after an internal affairs investigation concluded that they violated department policies, said the Miami Herald, citing documents it obtained.

The remarks angered local civil rights activists keeping tabs on a department that is currently scrutinized by the U.S. Department of Justice for a pattern of excessive force.

“It’s indicative of the casual conversations and comments that young and even more seasoned police officers are used to making without a lot of repercussions,” said Julia Dawson, an activist who has been part of law enforcement oversight panels in Miami.

The Miami police department confirmed that officers Bergnes, Valdes and Alcin were fired, but did not explain the reasons behind the dismissals.

In a statement, Chief Rodolfo Llanes said an internal affairs investigation found the officers’ actions “inconsistent with the mission and values of our department.”

Attorney Stephan Lopez, who represents the three officers, told The Associated Press that his clients were joking and that the comments were taken out of context. He said Alcin is African-American and Valdes has a black grandfather.

“They wanted to make an example out of this. But they made an example of the wrong people,” Lopez said. “These guys didn’t shoot anybody. They were clearly joking around. They are kids. You don’t terminate them the day before Christmas Eve.”

The incident happened June 30, when the three officers responded to other rookie colleagues’ questions about shooting ranges in a WhatsApp chat they often used to communicate, the paper said. According to documents obtained by the Herald, the officers-in-training shared department information on that thread.

It said the documents show Bergnes sarcastically suggested the friend looking for a shooting range try a Bank of America, adding “they’ll even give you some cash.” He then suggested Model City — the police district that includes Liberty City and handles the bulk of the city’s shootings — as another location.

Valdes suggested a particular intersection in the Overtown community, according to the paper. It added that Alcin followed up, saying Valdes “wouldn’t understand” until he’s worked there.

The next day, an officer warned them that their words were offensive even though she didn’t think they were racist. “Your words can come back to bite you,” she allegedly wrote.

A sergeant learned of the conversation and ordered one officer to apologize. He also wrote a memo to a lieutenant about the matter, according to the Herald. Internal affairs began an investigation and concluded on Dec. 19 that they broke social media, courtesy and responsibility rules, the paper said.

Lopez, the attorney, said it’s too early to say whether he will file a lawsuit for wrongful termination or negotiate to get their jobs back. The officers were still on probation after being sworn in earlier this year.

Javier Ortiz, president of the police union, said he didn’t agree with the “joking texts” but that it wasn’t enough for dismissal. He said the city manager would “rather focus on text messages than the senseless killings and violent crime.”

The incident came months after the city of Miami agreed to go under supervision of the U.S. Justice Department to reform its policing after a series of police shootings from 2008 to 2011. The agreement followed a report that questioned 33 police shootings, including seven black men and teenagers who were killed in a short time.

 

Milwaukee legislators offer ‘Sleeping in the Park’ bill

State Reps. Frederick Kessler, Jonathan Brostoff and David Bowen and Rep.-elect David Crowley are proposing legislation to prevent law enforcement officers from arresting or attempting to arrest a person for simply sleeping in a county park.

The measure is a response to the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee on April 30, 2014, by a Milwaukee police officer. The officer had been responding to concern that Hamilton was sleeping in Red Arrow Park. Hamilton had been questioned by two other officers and was found to have been doing nothing more than sleeping.

He was questioned a third time in a situation that escalated to a fatal confrontation.

“Given the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton, it raises questions about the alleged violation he committed by simply sleeping in Red Arrow Park,” Kessler said in a press statement. “For that simple concern, Mr. Hamilton was confronted by two officers initially, on two occasions, and then later, after being questioned by a third officer, lost his life.”

Brostoff stated, “Public parks are for people, period. This legislation will help members of our community who simply want to enjoy a public park and decrease the sort of harassment that led to Donte Hamilton’s terrible demise.”

“If we do not govern to prevent this kind of human rights violation, who will?” asked Crowley. “For too long we have seen an erosion of human rights, especially in communities of color. We need to take proactive steps with legislation like this to ensure the rights of all citizens, without stifling the honorable work of law enforcement.”

The legislation would allow for police to arrest someone sleeping in a county park if that person is known to be wanted for arrest on other charges or the officer believes the individual is a threat to public health or safety. The measure also would provide for county ordinances that prohibit sleeping in a park, but limit the penalty for doing so to a forfeiture of not less than $10 and no more than $200, plus costs.

“There has to be more common sense,” Kessler said. “If you are merely sleeping in a county park, and an officer has no reason to believe you have committed another crime and there is no warrant for your arrest, then there is no reason to be arrested or questioned if all you are doing is sleeping. This legislation is a simple proposal and will hopefully prevent a tragedy such as that involving Dontre Hamilton from happening again.”

Struggling man killed by Milwaukee policeman he knew from school

The man killed in a police shooting that sparked two nights of violence in Milwaukee suffered from cognitive and mental health issues, and he carried a gun because he had been shot more than once in the past, his grandfather said.

Sylville Smith had a lengthy criminal past, but was just trying to survive in the inner city, William Brookins told The Associated Press.

“In this city, there’s a lot of killings going on in the street,” said Brookins, who detailed Smith’s problems in a letter to a judge last year seeking mercy for his grandson. “He was afraid for his life. He was concerned about his safety and surviving.”

Smith, 23, was shot and killed Saturday after a brief foot chase that followed a traffic stop. Police say Smith was fleeing, and officials have said the officer’s body camera shows him being shot after he turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand.

CNN reported that the as-yet unnamed officer responsible for the shooting knew Sylville from high school.

“The officer knew him personally from high school and he still shot him,” Sylville Smith’s sister Sherelle Smith told CNN.

“He didn’t like my brother,” she said. “The officer had a career, but my brother was more popular. He used to harass Sylville.”

A source close to the family accused the young officer, who like Sylville Smith was a young African-American man, of having a “personal vendetta” against Smith.

A few hours after the shooting, violence erupted on the city’s largely black North Side, with protesters hurling rocks at police and burning six businesses. A lighter night of protests followed Sunday. Monday was calm, though 10 people were arrested. There were no reports of protesters gathering on Tuesday night.

The cost of damages to eight buildings during the riots could be in the millions, according to multiple sources. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, MPD Chief Edward Flynn and other leaders have blamed outside agitators, particularly from Chicago, for inciting the violence.

Flynn blamed a Chicago chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party for upending what had begun as a peaceful demonstration on Aug. 13. Fourteen people were arrested. Three police officers and four sheriff’s deputies were hurt.

Run-ins with the law

Smith had several run-ins with the law dating to 2013, including speeding, driving without insurance, driving with a suspended license and having open alcohol in a vehicle.

In 2013, he was charged with felony retail theft for allegedly stealing $1,600 worth of DVDs from a Milwaukee Wal-Mart. According to a criminal complaint, Smith and another man were seen removing fans from their boxes and putting the DVDs in the boxes. Prosecutors later dismissed the charge.

A year later, he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, a misdemeanor. According to court documents, two officers on bike patrol approached Smith and his friends after smelling marijuana in their vehicle and found a loaded .45-caliber pistol under Smith’s shirt. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one day in jail.

In early 2015, Smith was charged with reckless endangerment, a felony. Investigators alleged he opened fire on a man in retaliation for the man’s role in a fight between some girls weeks earlier. According to a complaint, Smith and the man got into a car chase before the man finally stopped and ran on foot. Smith chased after the man and shot at him. He eluded Smith by hiding behind a house, according to the complaint.

As that case was pending, Smith was charged with felony intimidation of a witness — the man he was accused of shooting at. Prosecutors said he had his girlfriend call the man and pressure him to recant. The man did, according to prosecutors, who dropped both cases that year.

Brookins said his grandson’s criminal record was “nothing in comparison to other people.” He said Smith had never been convicted of a felony.

“That’s the law, OK,” Brookins said. “He’s not guilty.”

He described Smith as a good kid with a “beautiful personality.”

Smith was known for his hip-hop dance moves and trained in gymnastics when he was in middle school, Brookins said.

He also suffered from mental health issues, Brookins said. He declined to go into detail, saying only that Smith had problems with “comprehension and understanding” and spent time in special classes in elementary and middle school. In a letter to the judge in the reckless endangerment case, Brookins wrote that Smith was receiving Social Security payments because of his mental health problems.

Smith had been shot on more than one occasion, Brookins said. The last time was “a few years ago” when he was hit six times in front of his mother’s house. His grandfather did not have any information on what precipitated the shooting but said Smith still carried bullet fragments in his body.

Smith started carrying a gun after that incident.

“That really had a great effect on him and his fear of being hurt and the need to protect himself from people trying to do him harm,” Brookins said.

Milwaukee police could not immediately confirm Brookins’ account. A spokesman told The Associated Press to file a records request.

Smith’s mother, Mildred Haynes, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that her son had recently received his concealed-carry license because he had been shot twice and robbed four times, including a robbery in which he was stripped of all his clothes. He leaves behind a 2-year-old son.

“I’m not going to say he was an angel. He was out here living his life,” Smith’s godmother, Katherine Mahmoud, told the newspaper.

“It’s hard to grasp he’s no longer here,” Brookins said. “Oh, my God. This is terrible

 

 

Bar rises for Milwaukee police review after latest shooting

Milwaukee, shaken by violence after a shooting by police, is one of a few U.S. cities to have volunteered for federal government review of its police force and may now be held to higher standards for how it responds.

Beginning in December, the review included a public “listening session” that, according to Milwaukee media, drew 700 people to a library auditorium to air their frustrations to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

Some community leaders said the weekend violence should result in a tougher review and real change.

“I would hope that the cries of the unheard … are now being heard around the country out of Milwaukee,” said Rev. Steve Jerbi, the lead pastor at All Peoples Church in the Wisconsin city of about 595,000 people.

The Obama administration has promoted a $10 million nationwide voluntary review program as a way to improve policing amid nationwide complaints of racial profiling and targeting. Milwaukee has become the latest U.S. city to experience discord after high-profile police killings of black men over the past two years.

The review in Milwaukee will look at issues such as use of force, the disciplinary system and diversity in hiring. The city was 45 percent white in the 2010 Census, while the police department is 68 percent white.

“Expectations of the report itself and of departmental compliance with the report are going to be raised,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police behavior.

There is skepticism of how Milwaukee authorities will respond to federal recommendations, after past responses fell short of demands.

Fred Royal, president of the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch, noted that the recommendations would not be legally binding, unlike those for cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, where police use of deadly force and other practices were being scrutinized under so-called consent decrees — settlements without a final ruling by a judge.

“They don’t have the teeth that a consent decree has,” Royal said.

Businesses were torched and gunfire erupted in Milwaukee after the shooting on Saturday of a black man, Sylville K. Smith, 23. Police said he refused to drop a handgun when he was killed, and on Monday, the city imposed a curfew.

“My experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has been that it is a department in desperate need of fundamental change,” said Flint Taylor, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who has sued Milwaukee over police tactics.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee Police Department said officials were not available for an interview.

Police Chief Edward Flynn has said previously that his department has made progress and can withstand scrutiny.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said officials there declined an interview request.

The Justice Department is expected to release its findings within about two months. Milwaukee could then receive outside assistance and monitoring for up to two years.

Making the challenge tougher are deep problems of poverty and segregation in Milwaukee, the 31st largest city in the United States.

Milwaukee was ranked as the most segregated city in America by the Brookings Institution last year and in the neighborhood where the rioting took place more than 30 percent of people live in poverty.

Residents have protested past police shootings, such as the 2014 killing in which an unarmed, mentally ill black man, Dontre Hamilton, was shot 14 times. An officer was dismissed but no one was charged.

In 2011, another black man, Derek Williams, died in the back of a Milwaukee police car after he told officers he could not breathe and needed help, according to a lawsuit his family filed. The city has not responded to the lawsuit.

And in January this year, Milwaukee officials approved a $5 million settlement with 74 black men who said they had been subjected to illegal strip and cavity searches.

Las Vegas, which volunteered for the same federal program after a series of shootings there in 2011, was handed a list of 75 findings and recommendations by the Justice Department, and 18 months later it had completed 90 percent of the recommendations, the department said.

Philadelphia and San Francisco are among other cities under review.

Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou Contini and Grant McCool.

ACLU calls for transparency in investigation of Milwaukee shooting

In response the Wisconsin Department of Justice declaring it will not release video footage of the officer-involved fatal shooting in Milwaukee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin again called for transparency in the investigation of the underlying incident.  ACLU executive director Chris Ahmuty wrote the following letter to Attorney General Brad Schimel:

Dear Attorney General Schimel,

It is time for you and your agency to give the public more information about your investigation into the officer-involved fatal shooting of Mr. Sylville Smith on August 13, 2016 in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.

In an August 14, 2016 news release you stated “The Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), at the request of the Milwaukee Police Department, is leading the investigation of yesterday’s officer involved death.  DOJ will work expeditiously to ensure a thorough and transparent gathering of the facts.”  According to an August 16, 2016 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, your spokesperson said, “In recognition of the violence that has affected Milwaukee residents for the last 48 hours, DOJ is working expeditiously, and within the parameters of the law, to provide the community a transparent view of the events that took place on August 13 in a timely manner.  However, we are not prepared to release any of the video evidence at this time.”

To date you have promised transparency, but provided little information on your investigation to the community and Mr. Smith’s grieving family and friends, who seek understanding of the deadly incident that transpired on August 13.

In your news release and your spokesperson’s statement as reported in the media, you don’t even mention Sylville Smith’s name.  It is important for you to recognize that a Milwaukee police officer has killed a specific person, with family, friends and neighbors.

You have said that you will not “release any of the video evidence at this time.” Failure to timely release video of similar incidents has been a source of unrest in Chicago, leading officials there to adopt a policy of prompt release of video.  Note that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has already expressed conclusions drawn from a video the public has not been allowed to see.

You have remained silent regarding a host of other questions that would help the public ascertain whether your agency is conducting “a thorough and transparent gathering of facts.”  We ask that you please answer the following questions about your investigation:

  1. Are any of the investigators/analysts assigned to this case former Milwaukee Police Department employees?
  2. Has DCI interviewed the officer(s) who encountered Mr. Smith on August 13?  If so, when were the officers interviewed?
  3. Has DCI or MPD interviewed neighbors/witnesses?
  4. Who gets access to Smith’s companion (Is he in custody?  Does he have an attorney?)
  5. Does DCI have the body worn camera(s) (BWC)?  Does it have access to evidence.com?
  6. Did the officer or other witnesses review the BWC or dash cam video before your agents interviewed them?
  7. Was the officer given a blood test?
  8. What was the basis for the stop?  Are there radio communications that would reflect the basis for the stop?
  9. Is there audio from the dash cam or from nearby Shotspotter microphones?
  10. When will the medical examiner issue a report?

Nearly all of these questions are procedural and address aspects of your gathering of facts.  None call for details regarding the evidence, much less conclusions.

Please answer these questions.  If you refuse to answer any of these questions, please let me know your justification for refusing at this time.

Thank you.  I hope to hear from you shortly.

 

1 person shot, officer injured on 2nd night of Milwaukee protests

Tension flared again on Aug. 14, with one person shot and a police officer injured, in the Milwaukee area where the fatal shooting of a suspect by an officer had sparked rioting, prompting Wisconsin’s governor to activate the National Guard.

Police violence against African-Americans has set off intermittent, sometimes violent protests in the past two years, igniting a national debate over race and policing and giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

After peaceful vigils by small groups of demonstrators earlier, Milwaukee police said late on Aug. 14 they had rescued one shooting victim, who was taken to hospital.

It was not known whether the injured person was a protester.

One police officer was hospitalized after a rock smashed a patrol car windshield, the MPD said.

Police said they began attempting to disperse crowds after shots were fired and objects, including rocks and bottles, were thrown by some protesters. Several arrests were reported.

About 20 police in riot gear faced a group of more than 100 protesters in a tense standoff that continued into the early morning hours, punctuated by sporadic reports of gunfire.

Despite the violence, police said the National Guard had not been called in, as authorities worked to restore order.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took the precaution of activating the National Guard in case more violence broke out over the death of Sylville K. Smith, 23, who was shot while trying to flee from an officer who had stopped his car.

Aiming to reassure the community that the police acted properly, Chief Edward Flynn said on Sunday he had viewed video from the officer’s body camera and it showed Smith had turned toward him with a gun in his hand after a traffic stop.

The Sherman Park neighborhood, where a heated confrontation between residents and officers clad in riot gear turned violent overnight, had been peaceful at dusk.

About 200 people lit candles and gathered near the spot where Smith was shot. A few officers looked on as faith and community leaders implored protesters to restrain their anger.

“We are not ignorant and stupid people,” a pastor told the crowd, echoing a feeling among many of the city’s African-Americans that they are systematically mistreated.

“Every single person needs to be looked upon as human beings and not like savages and animals.”

The previous night, shots were fired, six businesses were burned and police cars damaged before calm was restored in the area, which has a reputation for poverty and crime.

Seventeen people were arrested, and four officers were injured.

At a news conference with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Flynn said the officer who fired the fatal shot was black and media reports also identified Smith as black.

He said a silent video of the incident appeared to show the officer acting within lawful bounds. He said the officer stopped Smith’s vehicle because he was behaving suspiciously and then had to chase him several dozen feet on foot into an enclosed space between two houses.

He said the moment when the officer fired his weapon could not be determined because the audio was delayed.

“I’m looking at a silent movie that doesn’t necessarily tell me everything that will come out in a thorough investigation,” Flynn said. “You know the fog of war. You know first reports are frequently wrong or slightly off.

“I know what I saw. Based on what I saw, didn’t hear, don’t know what the autopsy results are going to be, he certainly appeared to be within lawful bounds,” Flynn said of the officer.

The mayor said Smith did not drop the gun as ordered before he was shot.

Smith had a lengthy arrest record, Barrett said, and officials said earlier he was carrying a stolen handgun loaded with 23 rounds of ammunition when stopped.

‘DID NOT DESERVE’ TO BE SHOT

On the evening of Aug. 14, several of Smith’s sisters addressed the crowd, saying their brother “did not deserve” to be shot.

“My brother was no felon,” said one of them, Kimberly Neal, 24, as she wept. “My brother was running for his life. He was shot in his back.”

Walker announced the National Guard activation after a request from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who met Walker and Wisconsin National Guard Adjutant General Donald Dunbar.

But Barrett said any decision to deploy the troops would come from the police chief.

The National Guard, which is under the dual control of the federal and state governments, was deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 after several nights of rioting over the police killing of an unarmed black man.

This summer has brought deadly ambushes of police. Five officers were slain by a sniper in Dallas last month as they provided security at an otherwise peaceful protest against police killings. Three officers were killed by a gunman in Baton Rouge less than two weeks later.

Policing in Milwaukee has come under scrutiny since 2014, when Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill, unarmed black man, was fatally shot in a park by a white officer, an incident that sparked largely peaceful protests.

Additional reporting by Chris Michaud and Laila Kearney in New York and Julia Harte in Washington; Writing by Frank McGurty, Bill Trott and Chris Michaud; Editing by Howard Goller, Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez.

Autopsies suggest killer targeted victims at Pulse nightclub

More than a third of the 49 patrons killed during the Pulse nightclub massacre were shot in the head, and most of the victims had multiple bullet wounds, according to autopsy reports released this week.

Only two victims at the LGBT club had traces of soot, gunpowder or stippling, meaning most of the victims were likely more than 3 feet away when they were shot in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The autopsies show that about half of the victims had five wounds or more, and one victim had 13 wounds.

Gunman Omar Mateen was killed during a shootout with law enforcement officers following a three-hour standoff June 12.

“It shows he shot a lot and had a lot of ammo,” said Dr. Stephen Cina, a Colorado-based forensic pathologist, who has no connection to the case.

The large number of head injuries and multiple wounds on victims suggests Mateen was targeting his victims rather than shooting randomly, said Josh Wright, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms analyst who now has a forensics consulting firm in Tallahassee.

“I wouldn’t expect to have those many hits on those many people if you weren’t actually trying to take aim and make sure you hit your target rather than running around, spraying bullets,” said Wright, who also has no connection to the case.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating whether anyone died from friendly fire during the shootout at the gay nightclub.

Officers knocked down a wall and stormed the club, killing Mateen in hail of gunfire. Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, was shot eight times by police.

Cina said without evidence of stippling — particles of gunpowder in the skin — it’s difficult to know if the victims were shot in the head point-blank.

Michael Knox, a Jacksonville-based firearms expert, said the large number of victims with multiple wounds could also suggest Mateen was firing rapidly at groups of people in the crowded nightclub.

The unusual paths of some gunshots support eyewitnesses who said people were crouching under tables and hiding in toilet stalls.

“Some tried to run or hide under tables so you’re going to have these weird bullet paths,” he said.

Gun control advocates arrested in protest at Rubio’s office

A month after the Orlando nightclub shooting, dozens of gun control advocates started a 49-hour sit-in near Sen. Marco Rubio’s office to remember the 49 victims. They sang songs, held signs that said “#SitForThe49” and laid 49 red roses on white paper with the names of each victim.

Nine hours in, police cut the demonstration short by arresting 10 protesters who refused to leave the building after business hours. The sit-in was part of a larger fight for new gun control measures, but so far the calls for change have yielded no results.

The protest was reminiscent of a 26-hour sit-in Democrats staged on the U.S. House floor last month. A GOP-written gun and anti-terror bill has stalled in Washington during this election year and it’s unclear when the House will consider the measure.

On Tuesday, two parents of a Pulse victim observed the shooting anniversary by visiting Washington, urging members of Congress to pass gun control laws.

Gunman Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse during “Latin Night” on June 12 in a rampage that left 49 victims dead and injured 53 at the gay nightclub in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during a call with police dispatchers amid a three-hour standoff, died in a hail of police gunfire after police stormed the venue.

Protester Fausto Cardenas, a University of Central Florida student, said Pulse had been a “safe space” for him and other members of the LGBT community.

“To not feel safe in a space like that was a very impactful thing for us,” said Fausto, who wasn’t arrested. “We want to hold people accountable.”

The protesters said they were targeting Rubio because of the Florida Republican’s opposition to same-sex marriage and the support he has gotten from the National Rifle Association.

Rubio, a former GOP presidential candidate, was in Washington this week, but his state director listened to the protesters for about five minutes Monday.

“Sen. Rubio respects the views of others on these difficult issues, and he welcomes the continued input he is receiving from people across the political spectrum,” Rubio spokeswoman Kristen Morrell said in an email.

The arrested protesters face misdemeanor trespass charges. They were released late Monday on $250 bond.

The protesters said they wanted all politicians to reject contributions from the NRA, and they wanted tighter restrictions on assault weapons, as well as universal background checks for all gun purchasers.

“It’s not enough for politicians to offer platitudes,” said Rasha Mubarak, an official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida. “We demand a comprehensive platform for gun control.”

As part of the shooting anniversary, Orlando area officials on Tuesday helped move 49 white crosses, which served as one of the three major memorials to the Pulse victims, from Orlando Regional Medical Center to the Orange County Regional History Center, where the crosses will be preserved.

An official memorial will be designed as a garden near the hospital. Hospital officials said Tuesday that four patients from the Pulse shooting were still being treated, including one in critical condition.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. John Mica planned to hold a hearing in Washington on Friday on why federal authorities didn’t deem terrorism as a high enough threat factor in Orlando for the region to receive federal money for preventing and responding to terrorist threats. Almost $590 million in grants were distributed this year by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to metro areas, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, but Orlando was left off the list.

The parents of one of the Pulse victims, Maria and Fred Wright, were in Washington, asking lawmakers to pass any gun control legislation. Their son, Jerry Wright, a Walt Disney World worker, was among the slain.

“Forty-nine people were killed just because they were out trying to have fun,” said Maria Wright. “We are losing our freedom to get together and have fun because our government isn’t doing anything. I’m asking them to please do something before we have more children killed.”

Urging censure of Madison police chief

As stated in our petition, I have observed Madison Police Chief Michael Koval assume and carry out this important position of public leadership and trust.  I write to urge official censure of him and the filing of a complaint against him with the Madison Police and Fire Commission.

From the beginning, Koval has demonstrated an unwillingness and inability to listen.

Many of us have attended community meetings and forums, and found that Koval uses these as his personal stage. He is verbose, arrogant and disrespectful.

Although citizens are able to get in a few questions, for the most part Koval dominates every conversation and leaves no doubt of his “my way or the highway” approach to leadership.

In one instance early on in his tenure as chief, he screamed at a community member for presenting statistics and was then brought to tears citing “passion” as the culprit, but with no intention of addressing that culprit. He apparently does not know how to listen or deal rationally with unpopular feedback.

In a multi-institutional and multi-constituency setting, a leader can only be good if he or she is a skilled and compassionate communicator — adept at presenting a position, listening to others, negotiating compromises and nurturing relationships that will facilitate those compromises. Chief Koval has a serious problem with anger and with disrespect for the political process. Like many people these days, he seems to view politics with disdain, as something beneath him.  In fact, the political process is the mechanism with which democracy operates.

These attitudes were on full display in the blog he posted June 5.  He demonstrates blatant disrespect and insubordination for the Madison Common Council, including his threat that “You are being watched.  And be on notice:  this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you.” (this from the person who controls an armed police force); contempt for Madison’s citizenry (“PC Madison”); and uses terms coined by Rush Limbaugh to describe citizens who raise questions and concerns about the conduct of MPD (the “perpetually offended”).   

Appallingly, his behavior at the June 9 Madison Common Council meeting topped even this. His blatant disrespect, erratic physical behavior and out of hand dismissals of the concerns of our elected officials, his table pounding, petulant pacing about, and outright mockery of the few non-white alders in the room bespeaks a man who believes his own department’s policy governing the professional behavior of Madison police officers is beneath him.

This is inexcusably bad leadership and management, and rather than know this, he instead boasts about these serious transgressions.  He is setting the worst example for the rank and file.  This is not what public service, and leadership of a public institution, should look like.

Alarmingly, earlier this summer we witnessed the beat-down of 18 year old Genele Laird, a slight, African-American girl who, from the video capture of the event, was not obviously resisting the officer on the scene when a much larger white officer charged her and brought her to the ground with violent knee strikes and a taser.  How much of what he felt empowered to do was informed by the attitudes expressed or training received from Chief Koval?  Is this really the use of force standard that we want for our city? I hope not.

The chief of the Madison Police Department is a public employee and public servant.  He is not an emperor or dictator.  Insofar as he shares his disgust with the political process with MPD officers — as he has — he is dangerous. He is widening the “Us vs. Them” gap when one of his first objectives as a chief should be to narrow it. Because he has postured as champion of police, rather than chief of police, many officers will see him as their champion and any effort on the part of the city to reign Koval in or run him out may result in serious problems with the department.  These will be problems of his making.

Alarm over Koval’s apparent anger, disrespect and outright contempt, is spreading in our community.  A public employee and public official who displays the kind of contempt for elected officials and citizens should be fired.  However, I call on you, the only elected people in our city with the power to directly censure Madison’s chief of police, to do so for Koval’s repeated, culturally supported displays of insubordination, disrespect, and contempt for citizens and elected officials.  I call on you to file a formal complaint against him with the Madison Police and Fire Commission seeking to have him removed as chief for the many violations of his own department’s policy as well as for the direct insubordination of the Common Council.

I implore you to get educated on the true scope and extent of the powers you have to affect change within the police department in the form of lawful orders which the department is, in fact, compelled to obey.  Finally, next time a chief is selected for this city, do everything you can to guarantee we do not get “more of the same.”

Amelia Royko Maurer lives in Madison.

On the Web

Progressive Dane of Dane County is circulating a petition that urges the Madison Common Council to pursue filing censure and a complaint with the Police and Fire Commission against Police Chief Koval. The petition is at https://www.change.org/p/madison-city-council-file-complaint-against-chief-koval-with-pfc

Wisconsin Republican asks for prayers for dead officers

A Wisconsin legislator is asking people to pray for the families of the officers who were slain in Dallas.

Van Wanggaard, a Racine Republican and a former police officer who chairs the Senate public safety committee, issued a news release Friday that people should pray that “during this time of increased tension between police and certain communities that God’s wisdom and guidance will keep all lives safe.”

Wanggaard says people need to remember that they’re all on the same side and everyone wants to return home to their loved ones at the end of the day and too many haven’t lately.

At least one person opened fire on police Thursday night in Dallas during a protest over recent killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Five officers were killed.