Two Black Monona men are calling for police reform after police officers entered a home on Tuesday, guns drawn, and handcuffed one of them before realizing he was staying there.
“I was definitely afraid for my life,” said Keonte Furdge, a 2016 graduate of Monona Grove High School.
Furdge, who was recently laid off due to the COVID pandemic, had been staying for a few days with his good friend and teammate, former University of Iowa running back Toren Young, in a house owned by a Monona Grove assistant football coach. The house was the coach’s mother’s home until she passed away recently.
Furdge said he and Young and several of their teammates knew the neighborhood because they used to help his coach’s mother around the house and yard.
But apparently, the neighborhood didn’t know them.
Furdge said he was on the porch around 9 Tuesday morning in a tank top, boxers and slide sandals talking on the phone with a friend — ironically, discussing the qualities of the neighborhood.
“I was talking about the neighborhood and telling him how nice the neighborhood is, and how we should start going for walks and running in this neighborhood,” he said.
About 20 minutes later, he had gone inside and heard police enter and start shouting.
In a statement, Monona Police said they knocked before entering; Furdge said they didn’t. “I didn’t hear a knock. I didn’t hear a doorbell ring. I didn’t hear anything,” he said. “I wasn’t wearing my AirPods. I was just laying in the bed. And then they … announced themselves, ‘Monona Police.’ I was like, ‘Okay, what’s going on?’ And once I said that, they said, ‘Come out with your hands up.’ So I came out with my hands up. They said, ‘Is there anyone else in the home? Do you have any weapons?’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t have anything. What are you talking about? What’s going on?’ They was like, ‘Are you allowed to be here?’ I was like, ‘Yes, my coach is allowing me and another friend to stay here.’ And he was like, ‘Well, we got a suspicious call saying that people was on the property, and the lady that lived here was deceased.’ I was like, ‘Well, my coach knows that me and my friend are staying here.’ And my hands are still up. The guns are still pointing at me for some reason. They still … They didn’t put the guns down.”
Furdge said there were two officers inside the house with guns drawn on him, and another outside the bedroom window with a gun drawn, and an additional two or three officers outside.
They didn’t lower their guns,but they did put him in handcuffs, for about five minutes, before they realized he was, in fact, not an intruder. A Monona Police statement says officers were able to reach the owner of the house, who confirmed Furdge was allowed to be there. Additionally, one of the officers on the scene was Monona Grove High School resource officer Luke Wunsch, who knew Furdge from his time as a student.
“He knew that I played football. He knew I was a good kid. He knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” Furdge said.
Officers released Furdge from the handcuffs and left.
When Young returned to the home a short time later, the two decided to file a complaint with the police department.
“They were acting like they were listening to us,” Furdge said. “I let Toren do the talking because I didn’t want to blow up in their face, because that’s what was going to happen.”
First and foremost, Furdge wants an official apology.
“To be honest what I want, I want them to apologize. It could be on live TV. It could be in person … I want them to understand,” he said, pausing to compose himself. “If I was a white guy, would five cops come with their guns drawn? Would they have entered the house? That’s the question that needed to be out there.”
He said at the end of the encounter in the house, Wunsch did express that he was sorry.
“He was saying how sorry he was, and he knows how it feels,” he said. “And he don’t know sh**.”
Young wants more than an apology.
“What I’m focused on, and what Keonte is focused on, is initiating change to help avoid this and to educate the community and to educate these officers and to change the protocols and procedures,” he said. “I understand they have their protocol and they have to keep everyone safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their protocols are appropriate. And I think that that situation wasn’t handled appropriately … It could have easily led to another death of an unarmed black man.”
News 3 Now reporter Amy Reid reported Wednesday that Monona Mayor Mary O’Connor was meeting with two alders and the chief of police to address Furdge’s complaint.
“After spending the past few hours with Toren Young and Keonte Furdge I couldn’t be more in awe of their emotional strength and passion for positive change,” current Monona Grove head football coach Bandon Beckwith wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday evening. “After an emotional, traumatizing experience, these two young men walked into the Monona Police Department on their own and spoke with members of the Department to initiate ongoing change. They knocked on doors, not for confrontation, but to initiate judgement of who they are and not solely by the color of their skin. Change will come through hard work, willingness to evaluate ourselves, education and strong leadership. They deserve better.”
Both Furdge and Young also laid blame at the feet of not only the police, but the community.
“Who would sit in front of the house, trying to rob the house in underwear?” Furdge asked, rhetorically.
“This very easily could have been avoided,” Young said. “And I think the neighbors acted out of fear. They saw an African American man who is usually not in this neighborhood, sitting on a porch in his pajamas on his cell phone. And rather than going over and saying, ‘Hey, Hey, I’m so and so,’ and introducing ourselves, or talking to him, they acted out of fear and called the police.”
“It could have been Toren, not just me,” Furdge said. “It kills us because we did a lot for that community. They only care for us when we play sports for them. We’re their high school heroes. We give them trophies, we give them rings. Give them conference (championships). Then after we’re done, they give us nothing.”
“Well,” he added, “racism.”
Monona Police did not respond to a request for comment, though they did issue a statement Tuesday.
“The Monona Police Department is committed to creating an environment of trust and empathy in all our interactions between the public and our peace officers. This complaint will be thoroughly investigated,” the statement reads, in part.
The City of Monona issued a statement Wednesday, posted to the Monona Police Department’s Facebook page.
“We sincerely apologize for the distress this situation caused the resident, and we take it seriously,” the statement reads in part. “We cannot begin to understand the frustration caused by this situation but know that it is our responsibility as elected officials to put in the work to do so.”
“To our African American neighbors and those that visit our community, please know that we value your perspective and experiences on how we can improve,” the statement says. “The fact that this incident occurred in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd and the recent protests across the country regarding social justice only reinforces our need to evaluate how we operate in Monona. It has been said over the last few days that we can do better. We can and must do better. All members of our community need to feel safe, valued, and protected, and we commit to making changes necessary to ensure that occurs.”
In the statement, the City commits to reviewing body camera policies and implicit bias training, and to facilitating a community conversation around racism.
Furdge said he won’t be staying in that neighborhood anymore. He lives most of the time with his parents on Madison’s West side. He didn’t sleep much Tuesday night.