Judge: Monona police violated man’s Fourth Amendment right in 2020 detainment, did not show malice
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A federal judge ruled Wednesday that two Monona Police Department officers’ actions during the brief detainment of a Black man who they thought was trespassing in a home in June of 2020 was a “clear-cut” violation of the man’s Fourth Amendment right. The judge stated, however, that he did not believe the officers’ actions were with malice.
A filing released Wednesday by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin states the plaintiff, Keonte Furdge, was a guest at a Monona home on the 5100 block of Arrowhead Drive.
A friend of a neighbor called the police because she thought the house was unoccupied, so police went to investigate. Although the initial caller identified the the person’s race as African American, the judge states that the dispatcher did not give that information to the officers, who were identified as Jared Wedig and Luke Wunsch.
The Monona Police Department reported at the time of the incident that officers arrived at the home, knocked and announced their presence. The officers heard someone inside, but no one came to the door. Judge James D. Peterson noted the officers entered the home without a warrant with guns drawn, held the man at gunpoint and handcuffed him.
When they determined Furdge had permission to be in the home, Peterson states the officers removed the handcuffs but continued to interrogate Furdge. Officers eventually apologized and left.
Furdge alleged that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment right, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
The judge continued with his decision, saying Wedig violated the established constitutional rights and is not entitled to qualified immunity. The second officer, Wunsch, was determined to be reliant on Wedig’s judgement when entering the home. Judge Peterson states Wunsch is liable only for Furdge’s continued detention.
The judge stated that even if Officer Wedig had probable cause to enter the home without a warrant, his entry would be unlawful due to not having exigent circumstances, meaning a pressing or immediate need for law enforcement to enter a home.
The court granted a summary judgement to Furdge on his claims of unlawful entry and detention by the officers, and the case will proceed to trial on Furdge’s damages.
The judge did say, however, that while the officers’ actions are wrongful, they did not show malice or a reckless disregard for Furdge’s rights. This means the court will not grant Furdge any punitive damages, which are meant to punish someone who has done something wrong.
“The consequences of the officers’ unwarranted, guns-drawn, no-knock entry could have been disastrous,” Peterson wrote. “It was surely deeply disturbing to Furdge, and he is entitled to ask for compensation for his distress. But no reasonable jury could conclude, from the evidence now before the court, that the officers intentionally or recklessly violated Furdge’s constitutional rights.”
A jury can still decide to grant Furdge compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate the party who has had a loss or injury.
Furdge’s attorneys, including John Bradley, say the ruling is a win for their client.
“This decision vindicates Mr. Furdge’s claim,” Bradley said. “And the decision should remind all police officers in Wisconsin of that fundamental right: In America, police cannot enter a home without a warrant and without probable cause.”
Monona Police Chief Brian Chaney Austin, who was not in his current position at the time of the incident, said Wednesday he has been aware of the ongoing litigation, but cannot make a comment at this time. Both officers are still employed with the department, he confirmed.
Chaney Austin released this statement on Thursday:
In regard to the recent ruling, I wanted to convey that we respect Judge Peterson’s decision and appreciate his understanding that the officers’ conduct demonstrated a good faith effort to protect the community by investigating what they believed to be a possible crime. Police officers are often asked to make decisions based on incomplete and imperfect information, as here. The City and Police Department have grown from this incident as we are constantly looking for the best ways to provide high-quality public safety services to our community. Monona PD has updated its policies and the City has recently contracted with a policy management firm to ensure procedures are within best practices. We look forward to continued work with our community stakeholders, our elected officials and support from our partners at the Nehemiah Center and others in pursuit of creating a safer and welcoming community for all.
At this time, the case is still pending and therefore we will refrain from any additional comment.
At the time of the incident in the summer of 2020, the police department said it would review its training methods to ensure they eliminate implicit racial bias, as well as would review department policies and procedures on de-escalation and use of force. The department also vowed to organize a community conversation on racial biases that exist in the community and how they can address them.
A final pretrial conference will take place on March 16 and a jury trial will begin March 21, according to Furdge’s attorneys.
Attorneys for the City of Monona released this statement on Thursday:
We respect Judge Peterson’s decision and appreciate his understanding that the officers’ conduct demonstrated a good-faith effort to protect the community by investigating what that they believed to be a possible crime. Police officers are often asked to make decisions, based on incomplete and imperfect information, as here.
The City has exemplified an appropriate response, unlike other communities across the country, by:
Promptly releasing the body camera footage and incident reports to the public.
Commissioning the Riseling Group to review the matter and make recommendations for improvement.
Promptly releasing the Riseling Group report to the public.
Updating the Monona PD policies with regard to use of force and undertaking a thorough review of all police policies.
Hiring the Nehemiah Center to facilitate community conversations concerning race and provide training to city employees.
Using this incident as a learning exercise; and to reflect upon, and train to, be better.
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