After watching some trial testimony in Ben Masel's federal civil rights suit against UW-Madison police officer Michael Mansavage yesterday, I'm worried about the hit we Wisconsin taxpayers will take when the jury finds for Masel.
On the night of June 29, 2006, Masel was gathering nominating petition signatures to run for Senator in the Democratic primary against Herb Kohl at a hip-hop concert on the UW-Madison Memorial Union Terrace. Masel had gathered election petitions there before, as have many local politicians. About 11 pm, two UW-Madison police officers peppersprayed and arrested Masel for trespassing, disordery conduct and resisting arrest. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who was at the terrace, said he didn't see Masel disturbing anyone.
"I didn't feel Ben was causing any disruptions," Cieslewicz said. "I certainly didn't feel he was disrupting my evening at all. I didn't see a reason to remove him from the terrace."
Previously unreported details that came out at the trial included the fact that officer Michael Mansavage first missed Masel and instead peppersprayed his partner John McCaughtry, who was holding Masel by the arm at the time. Apparently, once McCaughtry and Mansavage had wrestled Masel into a face-down position on the ground, with McCaughtry's knee on Masel's back, Mansavage then peppersprayed Masel in the face. Mansavage also threatened to use a Taser on Masel for not putting his arm behind his back to be handcuffed fast enough, when the arm was, in fact, trapped under Masel's body.
The officers' descriptions of their actions made them look totally unprofessional, and strengthened Masel's claims. The multiple times both officers had to be taken through deposition statements that disagreed with their trial testimony didn't help either.
- The UW and the Wisconsin Attorney General's office should offer a sincere apology and a reasonable settlement to Masel before the jury awards him everything they legally can.
- The UW-Madison police need upgraded training in alternatives to using force and in community policing techniques.
- Barry Orton