The family of Genele Laird, who was violently punched, beaten and shocked with a taser at least seven times in the course of being arrested outside of East Towne Mall, is gathering in Madison from as far away as Georgia with assistance from the Black Leadership Council (BLC) as Laird awaits an initial court appearance that may still be two days away.
Laird has not yet been allowed to meet with any family, though those with knowledge of her situation say she has been visited by a pastor and a nurse. Those charged with felonies typically aren’t allowed family visits in the early stages of their cases.
Deirdre Thompson, one of Laird’s older sisters and the family spokesperson, was driving Laird’s parents, Robert and Gisele Laird, to Madison from Danville, Illinois, Wednesday afternoon. She said other siblings are on their way from as far away as Georgia.
Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson said the BLC had worked to bring Laird’s parents to Madison and find her an attorney.
“We’re pretty nerve-wracked right now,” said Thompson. “We really don’t know how to feel. We’re outraged. We heard the story about Genele’s behavior, but we can not understand how the behavior of the police is justified. We feel that this is a case of excessive force used by the police, and we don’t feel that her behavior warranted such excessive force.”
Police say Laird threatened East Towne Mall workers and security officers with a knife over a stolen cell phone. Laird is now being held on four tentative charges, only one of which has to do with the initial altercation. The other three all stem from her conduct after police attempted to arrest her.
Thompson said she was surprised to hear that Laird, an 18-year-old assistant manager at an East Towne Mall retail store with no criminal history, would behave in the manner alleged.
“All of the family is shocked right now. Her mom, her dad, all of her siblings, we were all shocked. We never thought that Genele would have acted like that,” Thompson said. “I really don’t know what to believe at this point. I don’t like hearing that she went in there and did anything as a way of violence against anyone. None of her family can really fathom her being like that.”
Supporters and family members, including at least one sibling who lives in Dane County, gathered at the Public Safety Building Wednesday afternoon in hopes that Laird might appear before a judge and have bail set, but the office of District Attorney Ishmael Ozanne told reporters today that charges are still pending and an initial appearance is expected Thursday or Friday. Laird was not listed in Wisconsin’s Circuit Court Access system as of the end of the business day Wednesday, meaning no charges had been filed or hearing date set.
Johnson said this incident will have a long-term negative effect beyond Laird’s own family.
“This issue is probably going to set this community back,” he said. “There were a lot of positive steps being taken to de-escalate these issues and I think this will set us back.”