What Madison police did to get in trouble – Isthmus

On April 4, the Madison Police Department released its summary report on police disciplinary cases concluded in the first three months of 2024. 

Like other such reports that the MPD’s office of Professional Standards and Internal Affairs has been producing on a quarterly basis since 2016 and archiving online, it was short on specifics. It simply listed the allegations and outcome of the four instances during this period in which officers were either disciplined or resigned after being accused of misconduct. The names of the officers were not included, even though three of the four have previously been named in news accounts.

In the remaining case, an officer “sent an inappropriate video to another member of MPD [and] did not follow proper procedures with handling an ECD and duty firearm.” (ECD stands for electronic control device, or what is commonly referred to as a Taser.) The officer was found to have violated department rules regarding the use of force, police weaponry and professional conduct. The action taken was listed as “resigned.”

On April 5, the day after the summary was released, Isthmus asked the MPD for its disciplinary records in these four instances. The request was part of a long-term effort to secure the prompt release of records regarding police discipline. 

In the 1990s, Isthmus and other local media twice sued the MPD, both times successfully, to obtain records regarding alleged police misconduct. Last September, this reporter sued the MPD over the long expected wait times — 10 to 14 months — for police disciplinary records. That case was also successful. The MPD agreed to provide the requested records in an expedited fashion and paid legal fees totalling $3,000.

As the released records show, only a small fraction of complaints against police officers or employees lead to disciplinary action. In the first three months of 2023, for instance, there was just one case in which discipline (a one-day suspension) was imposed, and it was for the minor offense of sending an unprofessional email to command staff. During this same period, there were 70 other cases concluded without any discipline imposed, including several cases alleging excessive use of force. 

On May 29, in response to the April 5 request, the MPD released records on the four officers who were flagged for misconduct during the first three months of 2024. They provide often granular level detail as to the nature of the alleged misconduct. And, with regard to the officer who resigned after incidents involving a video, a Taser and a gun, the records identify a pattern of deeply concerning behavior that the summary does not convey. 

That case, 2023PSIA-0176, concerns a now-former Madison police officer named Andrew Sitko. According to the office of Professional Standards and Internal Affairs’ 58-page report, Sitko was observed on two occasions “drawing his Taser out of his holster, arming it, and placing the red dot on a wall or floor. On both of these occasions, there was no indication that a Taser might be needed.” One of these occasions occurred “in the middle of the pediatric emergency department inside the UW Hospital.” 

In an interview with police investigators, Sitko said he was just practicing his “draw stroke” and making sure his Taser was working properly. A check found that Sitko’s Taser was “repeatedly powered on and off for a variety of durations” during his shift.

In another instance that drew concern, Sitko was said to have unholstered his service handgun and pointed it at a building. He explained: “I just wanted to practice [to] see if I was able to, with how my equipment was set up, draw my handgun while in the squad car.” He said the weapon was unloaded.

Sitko also sent other officers a video consisting of an animated depiction of a police officer shooting a woman in the head after she surrendered. According to the report:

“The video shows a police officer with his handgun out and states to a female, ‘Hands up, do it now!’ The female is complying with her hands in the air, with her back to the officer. She goes to her knees and states, ‘Typical for police in this city.’ Once the female is on her knees, the officer shoots the female in the head. The video then ends.” Sitko maintained that he sent this video by accident.

Sitko also reportedly told another officer, “I don’t want to shoot somebody…but I could use the time off” and laughed. He also made reference to how “we’ve” — presumably meaning the police — “killed a lot of people,” and stated that a situation presented an “opportunity to execute” an individual. Sitko confirmed having said some of these things, including that he didn’t want to shoot somebody, but said he couldn’t remember making a reference to executing someone.

The MPD also provided records for a second case (2023PSIA-0115) involving Sitko, stemming from an incident on Aug. 31, 2023, near the YWCA in downtown Madison. As detailed in a 15-page report, Sitko, in pursuit of a suspect, drove his squad car through a barricade while pedestrians were present, drawing a citizen complaint. According to a memo last December to Sitko from Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes, “it was determined that you did not drive with due regard.” Sitko was issued a letter of reprimand.

The 58-page report, meanwhile, concluded that Sitko, a probationary officer, “failed to meet performance requirements; not well suited to be a police officer. He resigned on 2-4-24. He resigned in lieu of termination.”

In the three other cases in which the names of officers have previously been disclosed, the released reports add detail that underscores their severity. Those cases are:

2022PSIA-0162, involving Madison police officer Richard Carriveau, who was arrested on Nov. 5, 2022, for first offense drunk driving in Columbia County. The MPD’s 14-page report says Carriveau was pulled over after failing to deactivate his brights while driving past a sheriff’s deputy. His breath smelled slightly of alcohol and he slightly slurred his words but insisted he only “had two drinks, bro” while attending a wedding. A breath test showed he had a blood alcohol content of .10, above the legal limit. Last November, a judge decided that the arresting deputy lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop and the charges against Carriveau were dismissed. The MPD nonetheless found that he violated department policy and issued him a five-day suspension.

2023PSIA-0064, involving Madison police Sgt. Nick Ellis, who was arrested on May 18, 2023, for allegedly attacking a woman in his home in Black Earth. The MPD’s 13-page report relates that Ellis had been “drinking all day” and she took his car keys to keep him from moving his car from his driveway to his garage. She told police he “put both his hands around her neck but did not squeeze.” Substantial portions of the report are blacked out, including the woman’s lengthy answer to being asked “if this has ever happened before.” The Dane County District Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges against Ellis. In March, the Madison Police and Fire Commission rejected Chief Barnes’ attempt to fire Ellis, instead issuing him a demotion to officer.

2024PSIA-0019, involving Madison police officer Matt Powell, who was arrested in St. Louis on March 1, 2024, on three felony and two misdemeanor charges stemming from an assault on a citizen and St. Louis police officers. The MPD’s three-page report states that Powell was walking when he “had contact” with the driver of a vehicle. Specifically, he punched the driver in the face and threw him to the ground, allegedly, then punched two responding officers in the face when they tried to take him into custody. Powell, a 2022 police graduate of MPD’s academy, resigned before disciplinary action was taken against him. The criminal charges against him remain pending in Missouri.

The purpose of providing this kind of detail is not to embarrass officers, past or present, but to get a full picture of how well the department’s office of Professional Standards and Internal Affairs does its job. In the cases under review, it appears as though the investigations were thorough and the actions taken were appropriate. That is important information for the public to have. 

But each case must be individually requested and providing it takes time, even now that the department has been sued into speeding things up. This is partly because, under state law, public employees including police are routinely afforded the opportunity to sue to block the release of these records. This law has been on the books for more than two decades, and has seldom succeeded in blocking release. 

Tom Kamenick, founder and president of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, suggests that one way the MPD could save itself some trouble and provide speedier access would be to release records regarding disciplinary cases as a matter of course, perhaps at the conclusion of every investigation that includes a finding of wrongdoing. Doing so would eliminate the need for the department to make a time-consuming and litigation-inducing employee notification.

“Record custodians across the nation are publishing more information proactively rather than waiting for requests to be made,” Kamenick says. “Disciplinary records are among the most commonly requested, and posting that information publicly could save agencies work and better serve the public.”

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