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Commission hears complaint against Police Chief Mike Koval

November 17, 2016 GMT

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval defended himself Wednesday before the Police and Fire Commission against a formal complaint filed by the grandmother of a black teenager fatally shot by police in 2015.

Sharon Irwin, the grandmother of Tony Robinson, has accused Koval of 37 violations of several police policies and procedures, including misconduct, unprofessional behavior and harassment, during the June 7 City Council meeting, where at one point he called her a “raging lunatic.”

“Common sense should dictate that the chief of police should serve and bring members of the community together,” said Al Matano, an attorney representing Irwin. “Instead, this chief of police has operated in a petulant manner.”

Koval argued that Irwin followed him throughout the City-County Building without his invitation while continuously asking questions about Robinson’s death. Koval acknowledged that in an “agitated” state, he called her a “raging lunatic.”

“Ultimately, it will be up to you to determine what the evidence shows in the case,” Lester Pines, an attorney for Koval, told commission members. “You will see that the incident here, for whatever reason, has been blown out of proportion to what actually happened.”

The quasi-judicial hearing included testimony from Koval, Irwin and Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores, who also filed a complaint against Koval containing similar allegations.

Five other witnesses, two on behalf of Koval and three for the complainants, also testified.

Irwin testified that she stepped out of the June council meeting to get a soda. On her way to the main floor, she said, she “invited herself” into a conversation with a group of people, including Koval and his two witnesses, Paula and Steve Fitzsimmons.

Paula Fitzsimmons, who had finished speaking to the council in support of police, said she used the term “reverse racism” to describe her treatment for being cut off while others went beyond their allowed time.

She said Irwin then interjected herself into the conversation to take issue with the terminology. Fitzsimmons testified when she was leaving the building, she heard Irwin “screaming” at Koval.

Irwin said her comments in the conversation were controlled and that she and Kilfoy-Flores were following the group to the main floor with the intent of getting a soda.

The two continued to walk behind Koval and another man toward a lower level of the building where there were vending machines, Irwin said.

Irwin said Koval refused to speak to her when she brought up the topic of “clarity” surrounding the investigation Robinson’s fatal shooting by a Madison police officer in 2015.

Koval said since there is a federal lawsuit against the city involving Robinson’s death, he in under a “functional gag order” and cannot talk about the incident.

Irwin alleges Koval knows she’s a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and says he called her a “raging lunatic” in a small corridor that reminded her of military hallways, where she felt confined and trapped.

“I think I’m better than that, and I apologize for that, because the chief of police has to model more acceptable behavior,” Koval said. “In that instance, as a man with feet of clay, I did not retain the composure that I would have liked.”

Kilfoy-Flores alleged that while in the lower levels of the building, Koval put his hand on his holster at one point.

“To me, it felt very unnecessary. I felt like he was exerting his power, and it felt threatening,” Kilfoy-Flores said.

Koval vehemently denied that allegation.

“In the 33 years I’ve been engaged in this profession, I have never nor would I have ever done such a thing like that. It’s absolutely preposterous,” Koval said. “That is a lie.”

Part of Irwin’s complaint stems from when she spoke in front of the council while members were considering spending $400,000 for a study of the Madison Police Department’s policies and procedures.

Days before the meeting, Koval wrote a blog criticizing the council for considering using money from the city’s reserve fund for the study.

In his testimony, Koval said he felt “conflicted” at the council meeting due to what he thought was a “negative and adversarial light” being cast on the police department.

After Irwin continued speaking past her allotted time, Irwin said Koval “tapped” on a table and became disruptive, a sentiment shared by other witnesses for the complainants.

In cross examination, Pines noted that Irwin wrote in her complaint that Koval “loudly pounded” the table, while Koval argued he did it to maintain the decorum of allowed speaking times.

Both sides will have the opportunity to file final written arguments, with the commission taking up the matter some time after Jan. 23. At that meeting, commission members will deliberate in closed session, but the decision will be announced publicly.