MPD investigation finds officers acted reasonably during arrest of mentally ill teen

Surveillance image of June 3, 2019 arrest.
Surveillance image of June 3, 2019 arrest.(NBC15)
Published: Sep. 20, 2019 at 2:10 PM CDT
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The Madison Police Department has released its findings from an internal investigation into allegations of excessive force against a 17-year-old exhibiting mental health issues.

The review released Friday found that officers’ conduct during the incident to be "objectively reasonable" and within the constitutional standard for use of force, as well as showing two "minor violations" of standard operating procedure by a sergeant who had arrived later during the incident.

to take the 17-year-old male, who was allegedly dealing with a mental health crisis, into custody. Allegations emerged in the following days that while arresting the teen, officers unduly punched the teen after he had spat on one of the officers.

According to a statement released by Madison Police Chief Mike Koval on Friday, the conclusion does not mean that the outcome of the incident was desirable.

“The department recognizes a responsibility to use force in a professional and appropriate manner, and to continually evaluate the tools, training and policy guidance that are provided to officers,” Koval said in the statement.

Koval adds: “Officers are involved in thousands of incidents involving mental illness or mental health concerns in our community every year, with the objective in each case of reaching the best possible resolution under the circumstances.”

According to the findings released Friday and police reports released in June, officers were called to arrest the teen at a residence on Madison’s west side.

The teen had been exhibiting “disruptive and concerning” behavior earlier that day at school, according to the Friday findings. A School Resource Officer also had an encounter with him, and consulted with mental health workers.

After the teen returned home, his foster father contacted the SRO and requested police assistance. The SRO then contacted Journey Mental Health and it was agreed that the teen needed to be taken into custody for evaluation and treatment.

Police also understood that the teen was under a Chapter 51 Mental Health commitment, which provides for involuntary treatment of individuals who are dangerous to themselves or to others as a result of mental illness.

When officers arrived at the home, the teen resisted officers’ efforts to take him into custody. This is when a “physical altercation” began, police say.

The teen spat on one of the officers attempting to arrest him. A Madison police sergeant then arrived to assist and “delivered three strikes to the male’s head; officers were then able to control him and place him in handcuffs,” according to the investigation’s findings.

Police say the teen was not injured during the incident. One officer sustained injuries on his wrist and shoulder that lead to months of restricted duty, police say.

The teen was then taken to Winnebago Mental Health Institute for Chapter 51 commitment. Police referred criminal charges for the teen but the Dane County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, noting that mental health treatment would lead to the best outcome, police say.

Following the incident at the teen’s home, his father contacted police and expressed concern. He also turned over video from a surveillance camera that recorded the incident.

The Madison Police Department then began an internal investigation into the incident. According to the findings released Friday, the investigation entailed interviews with officers, UW police and other parties, and a review of the video and other evidence, police say.

The teen declined to be interviewed.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a release Friday that she appreciates Chief Koval’s “stated commitment to doing better - to improving future outcomes through improved training, and adherence to our best-practice policies related to de-escalation, use of force and the police response to those suffering from mental illness.”

The mayor adds that: “It is my fundamental belief that governmental entities, including the police, must hold ourselves accountable for the quality of our interactions with the public. 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.”

the police department's handling of the incident, and proposed a series of mental health solutions.

The Madison Police Department says a number of steps will be taken to avoid such an incident in the future:

- Officers involved will receive follow-up coaching and training to identify areas for improvement and recognize decision-points that could have resulted in a better outcome.

- MPD will be reviewing 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.

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