Concern has erupted nationwide over the arrest of 18-year-old Genele Laird outside of a Madison shopping mall. A six-and-a-half-minute video shows Laird being repeatedly Tasered by Madison police, as she screams and struggles, saying “I can’t breathe” again and again.
But Madison Police Chief Mike Koval is taking a wait-and-see approach to assigning blame for the incident.
Koval said at a press conference today that there is too little information for anyone to draw conclusions about the conduct of officers during Laird’s arrest early Tuesday evening. He promised the incident would be reviewed by a team of officials from his office and the Dane County Sheriff’s Department, a separate local law enforcement agency.
“These processes will take some time,” Koval told reporters, stressing that all concerned had an obligation to get it right. He said what the public has seen of the incident “doesn’t provide context or preamble.”
Laird was arrested following an altercation inside the mall over an alleged cellphone theft. Koval said Madison police were called after mall security was unable to effectively deal with the situation. He said Laird brandished a knife and threatened to bite officers, adding that officers were “actually scratched” and that one was spit at in the eye. Two officers were transported to the hospital for treatment and released. Laird was treated for a cut before being jailed.
The video includes a nine-second sequence during which Laird is repeatedly tasered while an officer shouts, “Put your hands behind your back. Put your hands behind your back. Get your hands behind your back, do it now. Get your hands behind your back, do it now.”
Throughout this, one of Laird’s hands is behind her back being secured by an officer while the other is at her side. She does not appear to be posing an immediate threat to the officers.
Release of the video prompted a protest outside Madison Police headquarters Tuesday night. Madison civic leader Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, has described the video as “brutal” and asked that all charges against Laird be dropped.
Laird was booked in the Dane County jail on tentative charges of disorderly conduct while armed. Koval indicated that he believed she would soon be released. In the end, he suggested, the criminal repercussions for Laird might be minimal. He declined to name the officers involved, saying that they have received death threats. But one of the officers, when asked to do so, identifies himself in the video.
Koval also declined to say what he thought about the officer's actions as captured on the video, but did promise, “I’m going to be looking with a critical eye at the rights of this woman.”
Bill Lueders is associate editor of The Progressive.