Witness of Monona handcuffing feels race was a factor, city apologizes

MONONA, Wis. — The city of Monona has apologized to those involved in the police’s response to a suspicious person call on Tuesday, saying they will make changes to do better.

“We sincerely apologize for the distress this situation caused the resident, and we take it seriously,” the city wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “We cannot begin to understand the frustration caused by this situation but know that it is our responsibility as elected officials to put in the work to do so.”

On Tuesday around 11 a.m., the Monona Police Department said it received a call from a neighbor in the area of Arrowhead Drive, alerting them to a person at a formerly vacant house the caller didn’t think was supposed to be there. Police said the caller said the person was African-American, but responding officers didn’t know that.

When police got to the house, they said they knocked and announced their presence. They said they heard someone inside, but said they did not answer. Police said they followed protocol in entering the house with guns drawn, believing this was a burglary to a residence. They said they handcuffed a Black 23-year-old man while they investigated. The man was there with the person renting the house.

After confirming the man was allowed to be there, they said they apologized for the misunderstanding and took off the cuffs.

In a Facebook post, the renter wrote that he filed a complaint with the police department after what happened.

“They were right in the fact that this was a misunderstanding, but this is misunderstanding that we as a community cannot accept nor afford,” he wrote. “All it took was one wrong move and the outcome would have been very different. We can do better than this!”

Carol Rubin, who lives across the street from the renter’s house, said she saw what happened from her front porch.

“They started to get out of their cars, and as one of them neared the door, I saw he had his gun drawn, and I was horrified at that,” she said. “I realized what could happen.”

Rubin said she tried to tell officers that her neighbor was invited to be there and that there wasn’t a problem, but they had to call the property manager to verify.

She said she believes race played a factor here, at least for the person who called police. She said before they got there, her neighbor was sitting on his front porch on his phone.

“Why did someone drive by and call the police about this person? Because I believe all she saw was a black man,” Rubin said. “Had she seen a black man in flip flops on his phone, you know, just sitting there in the sun, and if he’d been white, I don’t believe it would have happened. I don’t know that. I can only speculate, but I think she would have seen something different.”

Rubin said she retired from a career in employment and discrimination law, and she has studied bias. She said prejudices white people have about Black people are often subconscious, but white people still need to be aware of them and work through discomfort to fight them.

“Find that proximity,” she said. “Find a way to physically be in the same area, realm, church, carnival, store, whatever it might be and talk to Black people, and try to learn.”