The city of Madison last year quietly paid $27,000 to settle an excessive-use-of-force claim against Madison police stemming from a 2006 arrest, Isthmus has learned. Yet despite this indicator of the claim's validity, the officers involved, following an equally secret internal review, did not receive so much as a reprimand.
In the incident, Madison police responding to a bar assault allegedly kicked and punched the perpetrator into unconsciousness as he lay bleeding on the ground. In fact, an employee of the downtown establishment where this occurred was so upset she called 911 - on the cops.
"They were basically stomping on his head," the employee, Elissa Parker, tells Isthmus. "There was more blood than I could ever fathom a person having."
It was the early morning hours of Dec. 29, 2006, at State Street Brats, 203 State St. Just short of closing time, a bar patron named Jacob Bauer hit another man in the head with a pint glass. Police were called.
Parker, who was bartending at the time (she no longer works for the bar, having graduated from the UW), does not excuse Bauer's conduct, which prompted the call to police, but feels their response was "unbelievably excessive."
Bauer, says Parker, tried to flee by running onto the bar's garden area, where police caught up to him. She did not see Bauer resisting but watched in horror as police stomped and beat him as he lay on the ground. "At one point, one of the cops pulls [Bauer's] head up by the hair and another cop is kicking him in the face."
Parker began screaming, "Stop, you're going to kill him!" Then she used her cell phone to call 911.
"The police almost killed this guy," Parker told 911 dispatch, according to the recording obtained by Isthmus. "And I don't think he deserved this. They were kicking him in the head and stomping on his face and bending his neck over to the side, and he's out now and there's blood everywhere and it's very Rodney King-esque."
Parker told the dispatcher her boss "won't let me do anything because it's the police" but said she was calling anyway. The dispatcher asks, "So the kid the police were beating up is not conscious?"
Parker replied: "Not that I can see. He's just lying on the floor motionless. And there's blood everywhere. It just seems very not right. I've seen kids being subdued; I've worked here for a long time. I've seen fights broken up. This is not right." (Listen to an MP3 of the call and read the transcript here.)
According to Parker, other witnesses had similar reactions. But Tyler Kneubuehl, an employee of State Street Brats who was present that night, feels the cops used appropriate force. "He was refusing to go," Kneubuehl says of Bauer. "He was putting up a fight."
Bauer was taken by ambulance from the scene to Meriter ER. He had lacerations to his face and right thumb that required sutures, as well as swelling and redness to his right eye. He required follow-up treatment from the Center of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and reportedly experienced headaches and severe jaw pain for many months.
A May 2008 letter to the city (PDF) from Jeff Scott Olson, an attorney representing Bauer, says the incident involved two Madison officers: Stephen Heimsness and Corey Urso. Purportedly drawing from multiple witness accounts, it says police announced their intention to break Bauer's arm and then beat him mercilessly.
Officer Heimsness allegedly brought his heel down on Bauer's head three to seven times, causing a loud "thud" with every blow. He then "continued his brutal attack," bending down to "violently punch" Bauer in the head as he lay "motionless on the floor [in a] pool of his blood."
Olson's letter asked for $45,000 in actual and compensatory damages. No lawsuit was ever filed. Olson says the city's outside legal council responded in October 2008 with a settlement offer. He proposed a counteroffer, and a deal was reached, in January 2009, with the city agreeing to the $27,000 payment.
Bauer was charged with substantial battery, bail jumping and resisting or obstructing an officer. He pleaded no contest to the battery and bail-jumping charges, both felonies, and was sentenced to five years of probation; the resisting charge was dismissed. Olson does not know Bauer's current whereabouts.
The city's payment to Bauer came to light through a routine request by Isthmus for information on successful claims going back to January 2009. A record released by the city controller's office plainly states the payment reason: "MPD officer used excessive force."
But Lt. Linda Kosovac, the MPD's head of professional standards and internal affairs, says the department's internal review, the details of which remain secret, found that the charge of excessive force was "not sustained." The case was also reviewed by the Dane County DA's office, which she says "determined there was not sufficient basis for any action" against the officers.
The MPD investigator who found no basis for discipline never even spoke to Parker ("We played phone tag," she says). Kosovac says Parker did speak to a police supervisor that night, and her account was given to the investigator.
Both Heimsness and Urso, who joined the department in 1997 and 2000, respectively, remain on the force, assigned to the Central District.
What else we learned
Records obtained by Isthmus with the kind assistance of city risk manager Eric Veum show that, between Jan. 1, 2009, and July 31, 2010, Madison paid a total of $1,079,154 in 198 payments to liability claimants.
The largest payment, for a settlement reached in February, involved Monica Everson's sexual harassment complaint against former Overture Center director Bob D'Angelo.
While the actual settlement amount (the only figure that seems to have been publicly reported) was $235,000, the claim actually cost nearly three times as much -- a total of $647,036, including legal fees and costs. Veum says it's the only claim in the last 19 months for which the city's insurer, Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance Co., tapped into its own reserves. That's because the city has a $300,000 deductible on claims. (The city's premiums run about $350,000 a year, roughly equal to the amount paid by WMMIC in this one case.)
Most of the 198 payments are for damages caused in auto accidents and other mishaps, like "tree limb fell and damaged railing." One claim was for "wrongful trash pickup"; another involved a police horse.
More than half the paid claims are below $2,000. After the Everson payout, the next-most-substantial sum was $195,000 to a woman who sustained a broken ankle in an accident. The city also paid $25,000 to a man who said he was passed up for a traffic engineering job due to his age, and $12,312 to a claimant alleging discrimination due to age and back injury.
A spreadsheet itemizing the 197 claims (excluding the Everson case) is available here (PDF).