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Panel says add person of color to its ranks

Use of force by Superior police officers isn’t a common practice, but it was front-and-center this week during the Police and Fire Commission’s regular meeting Wednesday.

When President Charlie Glazman’s term on the Police and Fire Commission ends in May, the commission is recommending filling the seat on the citizen review panel with a person of color.

That recommendation comes on the heels of allegations that a Superior police officer abused his authority during the arrest of a woman of color Jan. 5 in the parking lot outside Keyport Liquor and Lounge.

“The way that I found out about all of this is it was Jan. 22 and I saw the video on television,” said Sandra Wright, a longtime Superior educator and former member of the Police and Fire Commission. “Some of you know this, Natasha (Lancour) is my next door neighbor and I knew nothing. She never said a word. Needless to say I was upset.”

Lancour, 28, is facing disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges in connection with the Jan. 5 incident outside Keyport. She was arrested after Superior police Officer George Gothner responded to a report of a fight.

Gothner is on paid administrative leave while the Wisconsin Department of Justice investigates the incident to determine whether excessive force was used in the course of the arrest.

“One of the first things that happens, when something like this happens, is people don’t trust the faces they see, especially if there are no faces like their own,” Wright said.

Wright suggested the commission, which is appointed by the mayor and approved by the council, include a member who can build that trust. She said since the incident involving Lancour has been made public, she has talked to witnesses — white males — who feared coming forward on Lancour’s behalf to share what they saw.

While the commission is a diverse group, she said the one thing that is missing is a person of color who could add credibility to the citizen panel charged with overseeing the city’s protective services. Wright said too few know they can file a complaint with the commission, but she said she doubts many would come forward because trust is lacking.

Unlike Duluth’s citizen review panel, the Police and Fire Commission is empowered by state statute to enforce policies for protective services.

“It’s very difficult to see what I saw and continue to trust people who look like me are being treated fairly,” said Wright, who is both Native and African American.

The commission adopted a recommendation to ask the mayor to appoint a person of color when a new member is appointed to a five-year term in May.

Commissioner Tom Fennessey said he would support making all of the city’s committees and commissions more diverse.

The panel also received an update on the investigation into Gothner’s use of force. Attorney Rick Gondik, Lancour’s attorney, said he spoke to someone involved in the investigation and was told the investigation had concluded and District Attorney Dan Blank should receive the information to review Thursday to determine if laws were broken and charges should be filed.

Blank had a full schedule Thursday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Blank could also decide to seek a special prosecutor, said Superior Police Chief Charles LaGesse.

Blank has previously considered charges against Gothner following a 2004 incident that resulted in a suspect being shot in the arm and the leg after destroying his father’s home and raising a club over his head and charging at another officer standing nearby.

A shooting review panel determined Gothner was justified in the shooting and had only about 10 seconds to act. The former Superior police officer who was facing attack, Brian Caron, testified in Douglas County Circuit Court in 2004 that he believed he would be struck by a club wielded by Corey Isaacson. Gothner later was awarded a Distinguished Service Ribbon for his quick action.

Police are required to report incidents in which lethal or non-lethal force is used to gain compliance for review to determine if the force used was reasonable and within department guidelines.

Force was used in fewer than 1 percent of all arrests made by the Superior Police Department between 2005 and 2013, according to department data.

During Gothner’s 15-year career with the police department more than 40 use of force incidents involving Gothner, were reported.

Only the 2004 incident involved the use of deadly force and only one incident led to a reprimand, according to information obtained through an open records request.

While it was determined the use of a Taser was appropriate during a June 9, 2005, arrest of a suspect, Gothner’s use of profanity and a wrist hold prior to the arrest were deemed inappropriate uses of force.

Retired Police Chief Floyd Peters issued a letter of reprimand Aug. 25, 2005, for the incident.

“Our internal investigation revealed that during this incident your actions and profanity you used toward this individual … violated our General Orders and our professional standards,” Peters wrote in the letter. The retired chief also noted that Gothner had an “exemplary record” with the department, which was why Peters opted for the reprimand rather than more serious discipline.