Home Madison Madison woman detained at gunpoint in car mistakenly listed as stolen

Madison woman detained at gunpoint in car mistakenly listed as stolen


A Madison woman was handcuffed and detained at gunpoint while driving a car that was listed as stolen — even though the owner of the car says he reported to Madison police that it wasn’t stolen back in April.

It is at least the second such incident in Wisconsin in the past year. Last July, Phillis Coleman was pulled over by Capitol Police when she had reported her car stolen to Milwaukee Police and called again to report she’d found it.

Cassandra Smith, 39, works as a driver for Priority Medical Solutions, a Madison company that provides transportation to medical appointments. In April, another employee did not return the car at the end of his shift, so the business owner called the Madison Police Department to report it stolen on a Saturday evening. The employee then returned the car the next day, and on Monday, the business owner says he called Madison police again to report the vehicle had been recovered.

Just after 4 pm Wednesday, June 16, Smith was driving on Interstate 39 headed south to pick up a client in Lake Geneva. In the passenger seat was Asaiah Johnson, 25. The business owner, who asked not to be identified publicly, said company policy permits drivers to be accompanied, especially on long trips or nighttime trips, for their safety.

An off-duty parking enforcement officer called Dane County Dispatch to report that he believed he was behind a stolen vehicle, and Dane County Dispatch connected him with Wisconsin State Patrol, who confirmed that the vehicle was listed as stolen and dispatched two officers to pull the car over.

Smith’s account and State Patrol video shows that traffic was at a near standstill.

“No one could move at all. I was just sitting in one spot,” Smith said in an interview. “Just out of the blue, there was a cop car that pulled up and turned on his lights. And I was just assuming that there was maybe a collision or something up ahead, that he needed to get through.”

She was in the far left lane and attempted to move to the right to get out of the way, but then the trooper motioned for her to move to the left onto the shoulder. Then another patrol car arrived and two State Patrol officers drew their weapons and pointed them at Smith.

“Now I’ve got two cop cars on me and I was just like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’” she said. “I had no idea that they were even trying to pull me over, or get my attention or anything like that. But here I’ve got, so far, two cops with guns pointed at my driver’s side window, yelling for me to get out of the car. Turn off the car. One was shouting to turn the car off, one was shouting not to move, or we’re going to shoot. The other one was shouting to roll down the window and open the door. So there was just no way for me to follow all of those directions, all at once. And I was scared to death. Like, which order do I follow?”

The State Patrol provided Madison365 with two videos from one of the patrol cars — one facing the front and one facing the rear. The front-facing video does not include audio, so most of the interactions between officers and Smith and Johnson outside the patrol car cannot be heard.

State Patrol video shows Smith exiting the car with her hands up and walking backwards toward officers. In his report of the incident, Trooper Gareth Sedgbeer-Williams wrote that she refused to walk backwards toward him, but continued to face him and walk toward him, which the video does not show. 

Video shows Sedgbeer-Williams handcuffing Smith and walking her toward another patrol car.

“He dragged me to his partner’s squad car, where his partner said, ‘Don’t put her in my car, I don’t have an animal cage,’” Smith said. A State Patrol representative confirmed that one of the patrol cars was unmarked and was not equipped with a protective barrier between the front and back seats, and that this barrier is commonly referred to as a “cage.”

Sedgbeer-Williams reported that Smith sat in the back seat of his patrol car but refused to put her legs inside the vehicle until he explained why she had been stopped.

Meanwhile, Trooper Brian Welch, with his weapon pointed at Johnson, instructed Johnson to toss the keys out of the car and crawl backwards over the driver’s seat and get on his knees.

“I tried getting my cell phone and started to record. He said, ‘If you move, I’m shooting. If you move and get your phone, I’m shooting,’” Johnson said in an interview. “So I couldn’t even do that. So I’m asking questions. ‘Why can’t I record? Why can I not record?’ I told them that I wanted to record. He said, ‘If you grab that phone, I’m shooting you. Any sudden movement, I’m shooting.’ That’s what he said.”

Dane County Sheriff’s Deputy Simpson arrived, and Johnson was placed in his squad car. 

Trooper Welch asked permission to get Smith’s ID out of her purse, which she refused, saying she would reach into her own purse to provide her identification. At one point Welch referred to her as “ma’am,” which Smith misunderstood as “man” and replied, “I am a woman.” Welch explained that he has an accent and had said “ma’am,” not “man.” 

Throughout the rest of the encounter, Welch repeatedly complained to Smith and to Simpson that Smith was “mocking my accent.”

“He refused to talk to me anymore. He was using that as his excuse to go and tell the other officers that I was being uncooperative,” Smith said.

Deputy Simpson finally explained to Smith that the car was listed as stolen, and retrieved her iPhone so she could call the business owner. Within a few minutes, the business owner had called Madison police and confirmed the car wasn’t stolen and both Smith and Johnson were released.

They both said the encounter was traumatizing.

“I look at police in a completely different way,” Smith said. “I really thought, there’s so much going on in the news right now with them killing African-Americans for no reason. We just had an officer who said, ‘Oops, I shot that person because I thought I had pulled out my taser.’ Unacceptable, that is unacceptable. And I have seen all of the lives of those individuals flash before mine, that day. I was literally out there, preparing my body to take gunshots.”

“I thought it was my day. I could say that. I thought it was it,” Johnson said. “I’m not doing very well. I’m pretty much on my tippy toes. Paranoid about even seeing the police. I’m having nightmares. I’m having mental relapses. I’m losing sleep. I don’t even want to go outside now. I don’t want to do my daily activities that I normally would do.”

Smith said she’s considering legal action.

“Well, ultimately I would like to sue the State Patrol for hardship, and for stress. For defamation of character, because I am a young entrepreneur, as well. I don’t know who passed by and seen me at gunpoint. That could have put a bad reputation on my name and with my business,” she said.

“I need some type of compensation and I need therapy behind all of this,” Johnson said.

A Madison Police Department representative said when cars are reported stolen, Madison police call Dane County Dispatch, who then report the theft to the National Crime Information Center. The same process is followed when a car is reported as recovered. It’s not clear where the breakdown might have occurred.

Videos provided by Wisconsin State Patrol are below.