Journal Times editorial: Provide Sgt. Giese's disciplinary record
Our Perspective

Journal Times editorial: Provide Sgt. Giese's disciplinary record

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The controversy over the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Ty’ Rese West by a Mount Pleasant police sergeant last summer continued to simmer last month when Mount Pleasant Police Chief Matt Soens declined to release disciplinary records or complaints against the officer, Sgt. Eric Giese.

Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson decided in September that her office would not seek criminal charges against Sgt. Giese and that he had shot West in self-defense.

There were no other witnesses to the actual shooting — besides Giese — and although he was wearing a police body camera at the time, he had not activated it so there was no video of the fatal encounter. The shooting, which began with a police stop because West was riding a bike after midnight without a bike light, roiled the community and triggered a debate over policies on the use of police body cameras.

The village is currently considering buying 60 body cameras at a cost of $100,000 — cameras that would be linked to squad car cameras and be automatically activated in certain situations. Under the old rules, village police officers were “encouraged” to use body cameras and had to manually activate them.

We support that initiative and can only lament it was not taken before the tragic events of last summer. Body cam video could have provided a much clearer picture of what went on that night.

But we also lament Chief Soens’ decision not to release Giese’s disciplinary record over the past 12 years with the police department, which were requested by The Journal Times.

Remarkably, Soens did release some of Giese’s employment history — his commendations — six of them between 2010 and 2014. They included commendations for arresting a drunk driver, firing his duty weapon four times and killing a dog as it was reportedly attacking another officer during a home investigation; evidence gathering at a homicide investigation and even helping provide a perimeter at a school break-in.

So we get the good, but not the bad or the ugly — if there are any. And, of course, we don’t know since Soens would not release any records of reprimands or complaints against Sgt. Giese.

In his refusal to release Giese’s disciplinary record, Soens said confidentiality was necessary to protect the reputation and privacy interests of the individual employee and “disclosure of these records would interfere with command staff’s ability to effectively direct, supervise and manage the police force.”

He wrote that the department had conducted a balancing test on the release of the records as required by law and decided not to release some of the records — any complaints or disciplinary actions.

“There is nothing in the records named above which suggests the interests to be served by disclosure,” Soens wrote in his response to the newspaper’s request.

Respectfully, we disagree. What Soens has given us is a half of the picture of Giese’s employment record and not the full picture. Given his actions in the shooting of Ty’ Rese West, the community deserves to get the whole story and that includes Giese’s performance history and not just the commendations.

That is the interest — the public interest in disclosure — that outweighs employment concerns or privacy concerns for public employees.

Good policing rides on the confidence of the public that our officers are doing their jobs fairly and effectively. Without transparency — particularly in difficult circumstances — there is no accountability and that erodes the public’s trust in law enforcement.

We didn’t get any video or pictures of the West shooting, but in the interest of public confidence in law enforcement, Giese’s disciplinary records should be released. We would urge Chief Soens to reconsider.

Without transparency — particularly in difficult circumstances — there is no accountability and that erodes the public’s trust in law enforcement.

Without transparency — particularly in difficult circumstances — there is no accountability and that erodes the public’s trust in law enforcement.

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