The Platteville Police and Fire Commission Wednesday night dismissed a complaint filed against police Lt. Jeff Haas.
The commission unanimously voted to dismiss the complaint filed by Platteville resident Zan Shields after Shields’ testimony and evidence was presented for almost two hours, followed by a 30-minute closed session.
Shields charged that Haas, then an Officer in Charge, and retired Officer Ron Knutson had fabricated evidence when Shields was arrested for drunk driving after an incident at Country Kitchen in Platteville Nov. 13, 2003.
The commission voted to dismiss the complaint on the motion of Haas’ attorney, Kyle Gulya, before Haas was to present evidence.
Shields’ sister, Rosalyn Broussard, a member of the commission, recused herself from the hearing.
Shields called her arrest “inappropriate” and “unsubstantiated,” and that the police report was “fabricated” and “based upon a statement a white female gave,” a waitress at Country Kitchen the night of the incident, around 1 a.m. after Shields had drunk a vodka and tonic at The Annex earlier that evening.
Shields started the hearing by testifying that the waitress told Shields to order and wait outside, which she felt was “racially insensitive — I already checked out the type of white female she is.”
Shields said she left shortly after 1 a.m. to Second Street for the former Shangri-La stand. She said she crossed Second Street to go back to her car to get her purse, where she was stopped by Haas and Knutson.
Haas and Knutson did a field sobriety test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, then arrested her for, in Shields’ words, “resisting arrest.”
“He came down there in pursuit looking for a black female, and there are not many older black women in Platteville,” said Shields. “There was nothing incoherent about me.”
Shields refused to submit to a blood alcohol test, which under the state’s implied consent law results in an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension. “They gave me no reason to trust them,” she said. “I’m not about to go to a Breathalyzer so you can rig it up in some kind of way.”
Shields said Haas was “the spearheader of it all … you dishonored your badge,” adding, “I felt that Officer Haas is a racist,” and “I felt like he was acting Nazi-like.”
When asked why she waited nearly a decade to press charges, she said, “Every day for 10 years of my life it haunted me.” She said she decided to file now, after contacting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the U.S. Justice Department, because of the current Common Council and police chief.
Shields said the Country Kitchen waitress didn’t want to press charges, so police shouldn’t have been looking for Shields.
“To me, the whole thing is just so insulting,” she said. “It’s beyond belief how insulting it is. … Everything else is basically fabricated … I definitely was not intoxicated.”
During cross-examination, Gulya pointed out that Shields confused Haas and Knutson during her 2004 drunk-driving trial.
“They both framed me,” she said. “Knutson–Haas, Haas–Knutson, whichever one,” adding, “Now I’m feeling that you are being racially insensitive by asking me that.”
Broussard testified that she felt the arrest was “a little heavy-handed,” and that Shields “did not seem to be intoxicated” when she saw her the next morning.
Gulya moved to dismiss Shields’ charge on the grounds that Shields’ testimony was “primarily perceptions and feelings that are not grounded in evidence.”
“Police officers lie all the time, and they do more things than lying,” said Shields in opposing the dismissal motion. “And when he lied, it was like putting a gun in a dead man’s hand. That’s exactly what it was.”
“I’m sorry the city had to go through this,” said Haas after the meeting. He said the incident underscored the importance of recording interactions between police and the people they contact, and “I would have very much wanted recordings to be taken of this,” while adding, “I would not do anything different.”
Police Chief Doug McKinley said afterward that the police car that took Shields to the police station had no recording equipment, and that the department was in the process of converting from videotape recording to digital recording.
“At that time we would have had a closed-circuit system, but that was just for protection of the officer and the witness,” with no audio recording, he said.
All marked squad cars now have cameras installed. Interview rooms, the booking area and the sally port of the police station all have cameras as well, McKinley said. Officers are now using glasses that have cameras.
Shields said after the hearing that she plans to contact the Justice Department.
“I can’t say that I’m disappointed because I knew it would basically go that way,” she said.
Correction: The story on Shields’ complaint Oct. 9 reported that Shields had her driver’s license suspended for failure to pay a fine on her 2003 drunk driving citation, according to court records. Shields said her Wisconsin driver’s license was suspended because she did not complete an alcohol assessment, which was part of the sentence.