Genele Laird, an 18-year-old black woman whose forcible arrest by Madison Police Department officers Tuesday was captured on a video that quickly went viral, will enter into a restorative justice program, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said during a press conference Friday. An internal review has been ordered by MPD Chief Koval to determine if the officers’ actions followed department policies and procedures.
The program was described as “victim-based, offender-driven and community-focused” by Ron Johnson, the coordinator of the Dane County Community Restorative Court. If Laird, who was released from jail late Thursday night, completes the terms of the program she will not face criminal charges.
But if she fails to successfully finish the program, Ozanne said he will file a criminal complaint, which has already been prepared by his office, to charge Laird with three felonies and three misdemeanors.
Ozanne said he decided to offer Laird the restorative justice program for several reasons, including the fact that Laird has already accepted responsibility for her actions. He also said that all the victims involved in the incident agreed the program was the proper approach to take.
“I also want to make sure that the huge step made by these officers and this department back toward the department is recognized,” Ozanne said. “I cannot underestimate the importance of this program for this community.”
Koval said he met with the officers the night of the arrest. He said he supported the restorative justice program in this situation, because that is what the officers wanted. He said the viral video, which led to protests and demonstrations in support of Laird, did not affect his decision to support the restorative justice program.
Koval also stressed that restorative justice programs would not be the new norm moving forward.
“We do not consider, moving forward, that this is to be the new normal,” Koval said. “We believe that all resisting charges, or those charges that are battery to police officers, that result in extensive injuries or otherwise, we expect that the district attorney will still look at these rigorously on a case-by-case basis.”
Though the program was championed by each of the speakers at the press conference, some community activists disagreed with the approach. Alix Shabazz, a leader of Freedom Inc., said the terms court and restorative justice were inherently contradictory.
“This is not true restorative justice,” Shabazz said. “Again, we are very happy she is not in jail, but the whole idea that the police were the victim in the situation is laughable.”
She said she will continue to advocate for community control of the police and for the officers involved in the arrest to be charged because of the excessive force used.
The speakers at the press conference only issued comments and did not take questions, explaining that Laird’s arrest is still an open investigation and potentially an open case where prosecution may be needed.
The identities of the two officers who arrested Laird will not be released as threats against their lives have already been made, according to Jim Palmer—legal council of the two officers and executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.
Palmer spoke on behalf of the officers, who he said “are confident that their actions were entirely in accordance with their training, departmental policy, the law and the standards of the use of non-lethal force that are applied to law enforcement officers across the United States.”
The video of the arrest drew different opinions from the thousands of viewers, which were often divided among racial lines, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Barbara Franks—a former special prosecutor for the Dane County District Attorney Office who retired after 27 years of service—also spoke at the press conference, saying the entire community needs to work together to improve the relationship between people of color and law enforcement.
“This incident has the potential to define who we are as a community and to perpetuate the anger and distrust between communities of color and the institution that is sworn to protect and serve all community without bias,” Franks said.
She said that Koval and the MPD made a “huge step to jump-start that change,” but additional training will still be needed to better deal with young adults and alternative methods need to be identified with how to best deal with “this group of vulnerable citizens."