Opinion: Koval Must Be Held Accountable

Opinion: Koval Must Be Held Accountable

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On April 18, the Madison City Council asked the Police and Fire Commission to clarify their decision in which they found Chief Koval guilty of misconduct for twice lashing out at slain teenager Tony Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin, last June. The PFC punted back without clarification. No surprises there. Lest they all wish to be labeled cop-haters, no one will dare hold Koval accountable and thus, the case is thrown around like a flaming, two-eyed potato.

While the council reflects on the burn, there are some things every Madison civilian must know should one need file a complaint against the police.

If an officer commits misconduct against you, outside of suing you have no reliable recourse. They can verbally threaten or berate you, joke about carpet-bombing your child, beat your homeless sister or even kill your incapacitated spouse and you cannot count on a single body serving as stewards of the public interest to deliver accountability. This includes your local, progressive newspaper, the Capital Times.

If there’s one thing Capital Times editorial board knows how to do with local leads on bad policing, it’s come to heel. Anytime that porch dog starts sniffing up a crooked blue uniform, like clockwork a bone gets tossed and back up it goes to its warm spot in the sun. But if you, a civilian, throw a bone that smells anything like risk, the creature will quietly retreat, upwind. That dog doesn’t hunt.

Consequently, here are some things you can bet will happen as a result:

You can count on your police chief to meet unwanted questions with threatening and demoralizing fighting words. He will, in uniform, create exigent circumstances out of criticism; unapologetically escalate his frustrations to a crisis just like he did with Sharon Irwin while, according to three witnesses, touching his gun. The chief denied doing this, as if to suggest he was at the time self-possessed. But officers are often seen standing with their hands resting on their duty belts. This practice is widely accepted as commonplace along with the understanding that the context in which a hand touches a gun or reaches for a cellphone matters. According to the PFC, Chief Koval has no pattern of impulse-control issues and didn’t admit to touching his gun, so they pretended like the whole thing never happened.

Should you choose to file a complaint with the PFC, you will communicate mostly with their lawyer, Scott Herrick. Herrick is sure to deliver confusion in the form of legalese that is barely recognizable to an earthling. Herrick is Soglin’s campaign treasurer and make no mistake, he will not help you.

You can count on the PFC to consider only those of your allegations an officer admits to. Unless the officer admits to misconduct, the PFC will ignore any video evidence or witnesses who saw it. They willfully ignore the disproportionate power afforded to the officer through top-dollar legal representation subsidized by taxpayers. Yes, you pay for both the officer’s and your own attorney. In the end, they will rule in the officer’s favor, every time.

Should you head down that PFC road, trust that Mayor Soglin will keep the imbalance of resources tilted toward the officer. He will not fairly equip you with legal representation. Like a crawling 40-year-old furry can of beans, the expiration date of Soglin’s interest to challenge the unjust on behalf of the unheard has long passed.

In situations involving police misconduct, you can absolutely rely on City Attorney Michael May to offer “sound” legal advice to the City Council so long as by sound you mean “poorly researched” and “biased toward the police.” For instance, in 2016, May advised the council on a resolution brought by Mayor Soglin. That resolution gave council the option to reimburse Chief Koval should he “prevail” before the PFC. This resolution came after Koval had already chosen and hired an attorney. May advised that, as per contractual agreement, all firefighters and officers are reimbursed in such situations, which isn’t true. Some of the contracts May cited to support his assertion, like Firefighters 311, include no such language. Now the council has this resolution predicated on bad information and May is still telling them they must reimburse Koval, even for the times he had his Cadillac attorney hold press interviews. What’s worse is Koval was actually found, by the PFC, to have engaged in misconduct and they expressed their disappointment — the opposite of “prevailing.” According to relevant state statutes and case law, council members in Wisconsin may reimburse at their discretion, even if city policy suggests otherwise — “may” being the key word here, as in “can” and not to be confused with “May” the month or the sloppy legal contortionist.

Almost every regulatory body and official with the power to hold Chief Koval accountable has buckled and we don’t need clarification as to why. The chilling effect of Koval’s words written to the council last year in response to their decision to audit the Police Department was a message to every stakeholder in the police accountability chain: “You are being watched. And be on notice: This is a preemptive first strike from me to you.” In other words, everyone has two choices: praise the police or shut up.

On Tuesday, May 2, the infernal potato will make it full circle, back into the hands of the City Council where they have before them a third choice with the potential to trigger the Copocalypse. Sure, things might get uglier and more uncomfortable than before, but some among our elected and appointed must fight so that facts matter, the rules apply to everyone and justice is possible. They know what they need to do.

Koval did it. He bought it. Make him pay.

Written by Amelia Royko Maurer

Amelia Royko Maurer

Amelia Royko Maurer is a human rights advocate and a founding member of the Community Response Team.

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