Incident Breakdown: Madison Police Strike and Tase Small Female
On Tuesday, police officers in Madison, Wisconsin were captured on video using force during the arrest of a small black 18-year-old female. Once the video hit the internet, it’s going over about as well as you would expect.
How Did We Get Here?
At approximately 5:15pm, officers were dispatched to the food court area of East Towne Mall, for a female that was described by mall security as “out of control and making threats.”
Officers arrived and found an agitated and animated subject who was identified as Genele Laird. Laird, 18, confronted an employee at Taco Bell claiming that her phone had been stolen. Laird subsequently displayed a knife and made threats to the Taco Bell employee.
Security responded and confronted Laird. Laird refused to leave until she got her phone back. Laird then made numerous threats to kill the security staff. Security staff called 911.
Madison Police Video Breakdown
We don’t know what happened between the 911 call and the start of the video. Based on the seriousness of an armed suspect threatening to kill people, many officers would have reasonably taken Laird down at gunpoint or displayed a Taser and then used it if Laird did not immediately comply.
However, the first responding officer used his judgement and decided to grab onto Laird. It’s possible that the fact that Laird was a small female made the officer believe that he could control her without needing to use more force.
The video starts with Officer One holding Laird’s wrists. Laird was clearly actively resisting the officer’s attempt to control her. Officer One tried to take her to the ground, and failed. In order to execute an effective takedown, the officer would likely have had to to let go of one of Laird’s wrists. Keep in mind, Laird is armed with a knife and has already threatened to kill people. If the officer released his grip on Laird’s wrists, then her hands would be free to go for her weapon. This would have been an extremely bad position for the officer to be in if backup wasn’t immediately available.
Officer One calmly ordered Laird to put her hands behind her back. Laird responded by yelling, “Arrest me then, bitch!”
Officer Two then arrived on scene to find Officer One struggling to control Laird. Officer Two knows that laird was reported to be armed with a knife and had already threatened to kill people; they need to get control of her immediately. At that point, use of baton strikes, pepper spray, and Tasers would all be completely justified.
Officer Two ran up and grabbed Laird’s right arm and appeared to attempt to trip Laird. Laird continued to resist. Officer Two ordered Laird on the ground and delivered two knee strikes to her abdomen. The strikes allowed officers to get Laird on the ground.
Once on the ground, the officers failed to put weight on Laird’s upper body or hips. This allowed Laird to turn, as Officer Two continued to deliver two knee strikes and a punch to Laird’s abdomen. I believe that Officer Two made a mistake while delivering these strikes; he didn’t hit her hard enough. Had Officer Two been able to deliver more effective strikes, the fight may have ended there. However, it’s easy to look back in hindsight and make these statements. While actively involved in a fight, nobody can react perfectly.
Officers began to further lose control of Laird as she got one hand in front of her, turned around, and started to sit up. The situation escalated as laird kicked the officers and appeared to be trying to bite them. Officer Two then unholstered his Taser. A Taser was the best force option available in that situation. The officers had already tried to control Laird through control holds and strikes, and they had been ineffective at controlling her. Pepper spray was another option that may have been available. However, pepper spray would have been much more harsh on Laird than a Taser, and officers would have undoubtedly gotten hit by sprayback. Officer Two was in an excellent position to deploy his Taser, and he did so effectively.
It’s hard to see on the video, but Officer Two shot the Taser probes into Laird’s abdomen. Due to the proximity of the probes, this would have been an ineffective deployment had Officer Two not then moved the Taser to the bottom of Laird’s legs. By moving the Taser, what the officer was doing was completing a circuit between Laird’s abdomen, where the probes embedded, and Laird’s lower leg. The spread allowed the Taser to effectively give Officer One the window he needed to handcuff Laird.
After fighting for two minutes, and being handcuffed, Laird continued to be defiant. She repeatedly yelled, “You dumb ass bitch!” Laird then sat up and spit on Officer two’s face. Officer two pushed Laird’s head down and she responds with threats, “I will bite you. I will fucking bite you”
Laird then had the brilliant idea to yell that she can’t breathe, despite the fact that officers were putting no compression on her body. To Laird’s surprise, officers didn’t just hop up and say, “Well, she said she can’t breathe. I guess we need to let her go now.” Additional officers arrived to assist and Laird continued to yell that she couldn’t breathe. Officer One responded appropriately and said, “Get fire started.” For those not familiar with the terminology, Officer One was requesting fire department medical personnel to respond to evaluate Laird. Officers then worked to get Laird on her side to make breathing easier.
The rocket scientist behind the camera then starting asking for Officer Two’s badge number. Officer Two reacted the way that officers commonly react in this situation; he stopped focusing on the suspect to announce his name and badge number to the cameraman. Officers don’t want to be seen as having anything to hide, so they frequently take their attention off of an incident to address somebody with a camera who is interrupting them. This behavior is dangerous and can get officers hurt. If these people are far enough back so they aren’t interfering, they should not be allowed to take any more of an officer’s attention than necessary. If they get in an officer’s face, they are interfering and need to get back or be arrested for interfering. Once the officer is done dealing with their suspect, they can then have a discussion with the camera person about how it’s proper to turn your phone 90 degrees before taking video.
Near the end, the security guard attempted to assist in keeping the camera man back, to which he responded, “Please move maam, before I beat your ass.”
The public has difficulty understanding this situation. Laird may have been a small 18-year-old female, but she was a violent threat to the public safety. How would you feel if she had pulled a knife on your family member and threatened to kill them. She absolutely needed to be taken into custody. Officers did everything that they reasonably could in order to control her with the least amount of reasonable force. The nature of Laird’s resistance, and escalation to violently assaulting officers, while in possession of a knife, required that officers use more force to control her.
Overall, these officers did an excellent job, and used less force than they could have reasonably used. Officers may have been trying to go easy on Laird due to her being a smaller female. If you ask a group of old timer cops about their toughest fight, odds are at least half of them will tell you that it was with a female. Females can be just as dangerous as males and should not be treated with kid gloves.
Laird was booked into jail on felony charges: disorderly conduct while armed, resisting police and causing injury, battery to a police officer and discharge of bodily fluids.
Both officers needed to be treated for injuries.
The internet is outraged at this video because officers had to use violence instead of the carebear stare. Thankfully, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval is standing by his officers for their appropriate actions, so far.
Wisconson State Journal reports:
“Here is a 120-pound kid, 18 years old,” said Caliph Muab’El, executive director of Breaking Barriers Mentoring Inc. “She was thrown to the ground, bag put over her head, punched, kicked and Tased … If that isn’t excessive force, I don’t know what is.”
At an early afternoon news conference Wednesday, Police Chief Mike Koval said he met with several people close to Laird Tuesday night and said they were “moved to tears, to anger” by what he acknowledged “looks like a very one-sided transaction.” But he defended his officers’ actions, saying one bystander’s short video can’t capture the context of the “15-minute narrative” of alleged threats by Laird that led to police being called.