The lead "Watchdog" item in last week's Isthmus mentioned a man who received a disorderly conduct citation in March after a mother and daughter reported to police that he appeared to be masturbating in a vehicle parked alongside them at Madison's Olin-Turville Park.
Isthmus has since received additional information that casts into doubt the reliability of this account.
For one thing, the item incorrectly reported that the man had paid a $298 fine; in fact, he agreed to this lesser penalty but has not paid.
The man, according to the police report, "took pronounced exception to being accused of any sexual activity." The report also makes clear, as our story did not, that the mother and daughter never saw the man expose himself.
"I was just sitting there rocking to the music," says the man, whose name we're not using here because the charges are in dispute. "Two women who know what goes on in the park thought it was something else and called the cops."
The man apparently made no effort to flee the scene, even though the officer arrived more than 20 minutes after a call was made to police. He says the officer never explained to him why he was being given a (non-criminal) citation for disorderly conduct, saying "You'll find out in court." The police report never states that the man was specifically told of the accounts provided by the mother and daughter.
At the man's court appearance in late April, he initially entered a plea of "not guilty." He then met with an assistant city attorney, whom he says also wasn't certain from the record what occurred. By his account, he agreed to a pay a lesser amount believing the citation was for his cross words with the officer. He admits calling the officer an "asshole" for confronting him.
Indeed, the man says he was not aware of the specific nature of the allegations until he read the Isthmus article. He has since consulted an attorney and says he intends to seek the reopening of his case.
Journalists do not generally check with the subjects of law enforcement actions, especially in cases like this in which a "guilt/no contest" was entered. But the information presented here constitutes a plausible alterative explanation for what occurred.
Isthmus is not sure what happened. But the man is entitled to the benefit of the doubt.