Gothner style: Thoughts on Superior justice

Thanks to footage shot by the automatic dash camera in the squad car of Superior Police Officer George Gothner, and later uploaded to YouTube, the incident is well-known locally.
In the video, which takes place on the evening of January 5, 2014, Gothner races to a call at the Keyport Lounge. There, he finds a situation that is already under control. Two police officers are calmly arresting and handcuffing two men, one black and one white. A few bystanders are standing around, hands in pockets. The only sign of agitation is a black woman, who is yelling something and pointing toward the cop who is arresting the white guy. Neither officer seems concerned by her; they even put their backs to her as they take care of their business.
Enter George Gothner. Pulling up in his squad car, he jumps out and runs toward the black woman, swerving around other people to get to her. Towering over her, he grabs her arm and starts walking her backwards, yelling and shaking his finger in her face in a very punitive manner. After pushing her back several feet, he turns away with a contemptuous shrug and dismissive hand gesture, as if he’s getting rid of trash.
She yells something. Gothner stops. He turns around. He moves toward her with his arms held out by his sides. She backs away, out of the frame. Gothner follows her. They’re gone for three seconds. When they come back, Gothner has the woman’s right arm in a compliance hold and he’s holding her by the back of the neck and shoving her toward the squad car. The woman is pushing against his wrist with one hand. Gothner shoves her forward and slams her head down on the hood of the car. He yells, “Stop resisting!” Her hand flies up and appears to graze his cheek. He gives her an uppercut. As she flies backwards, he lunges after her, striking her with two more closed-fist punches to the head as they go out of the frame.
Additional video footage, shot on a bystander’s telephone, shows Gothner delivering at least two more blows to the woman as she lies on the ground next to the squad car.
On the ride to the jail, the woman confronts Gothner. “You just walked up on me and just told me to shut the fuck up and hit me. You know you didn’t warn me, right? […] You fucked up for punching me in the face, but you know what? I realize that’s what you do. That’s your character. […] You did that shit because I was black. […] Lord forgive you. I’ll pray for you. I pray that God forgives you. […] I got beat up tonight, while my brother tried to protect me, and I was trying to explain to a cop that he protected me, and you fucking walk up to me, tell me to shut the fuck up and punch me. Instead of listening to what the fuck was going on. You didn’t even take down notes—“
Gothner breaks in. “Can I tell you something? You see this here? This is a camera. Your whole actions were captured on camera.”
“Exactly! And your action? Your number-one action?”
“Yeah, and your number-one action of hitting me first, okay?”
“I don’t even give a fuck! I’m right!”
“You’re not right, so shut up.”
“Until you do right by me, everything you do will fail.”
“There is no God, so be quiet.”
“There is no God? There is no God? Until you do right by me, everything you do will fail.”
“Whatever you say.”

That was ten months ago. When the video appeared on YouTube, it inspired some protest and anger in the community, as well as support for Natasha Lancour. Seeing themselves on public media, the Superior Police Department jumped into action and placed George Gothner on paid administrative leave while they investigated. They turned the video over to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, who looked at it and sent it back to Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank with a written opinion. Blank then sent everything to Bayfield County District Attorney Fred Bourg for further review, to avoid a conflict of interest.
“If I don’t issue charges [against Gothner], I get accused of protecting someone I work with,” Blank told one reporter.
On October 16, 2014, DA Bourg issued his report. He had no kind words to say about Gothner, who had behaved, Bourg wrote, in “a most vulgar and repulsive manner.”
His actions clearly precipitated the reaction of Ms. Lancour, who had just been assaulted by another person that was in police custody. His failure to make any attempt to reasonably assess the situation when coming onto the scene, his aggressive approach, his rude verbal assault on Ms. Lancour, and the manner in which he attempted to overcome Ms. Lancour’s verbal and physical protest, bring disrepute to his police agency. […] Ms. Lancour was apparently sober at the time of her contact with Officer George Gothner, and she was unarmed. Had existing protocols been followed, it is likely all would have fared better and the public would have been safer.

Nevertheless, Bourg went on, he did not think sufficient evidence existed to charge Gothner with a crime. He cited State of Wisconsin v. Hobson, a 1998 Supreme Court case that said citizens were not allowed to resist arrest, even if they believed the arrest was unlawful. Because Natasha Lancour “freely admitted that she resisted Officer Gothner’s attempt to take her into custody,” Bourg found that Gothner’s decision to give Lancour an upper-cut to the jaw as a way of ensuring her compliance was not a crime.
When I spoke to Bourg on October 24, 2014, he vigorously defended his conclusions, saying that he did not think he would be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Gothner had committed a crime. What made the case unusual, he said, was that there was “no complaining witness.” Neither Natasha Lancour nor anyone else had filed a complaint against Gothner.
Bourg also gave me a more detailed explanation of what was going on in the video. “One of those guys [getting arrested] is the brother-in-law, and one of them is the brother, to Lancour,” he told me.

Fred Bourg: The brother-in-law, five minutes prior to the time that they’re on film, had Ms. Lancour in a headlock and was punching her in the head. Her brother got out of the car and got her away from the brother-in-law, and then the brother and the brother-in-law started fighting. So Lancour’s brother is fighting with her brother-in-law. Two cops come up and say, “Stop fighting,” and both of them immediately stop fighting. They were completely compliant. And the officers said, “You’re under arrest for fighting. Put your hands behind your back.” They were both cuffed. The one officer—on the camera, he’s just standing there, and the guy that’s under arrest is just standing there. They look calm. The other officer, that’s walking Lancour’s brother-in-law away, is also very calm. His name is Gary Gothner.
Okay? So now you have Ms. Lancour yelling at her brother-in-law, who’s walking with George Gothner’s brother, and it looks like she’s yelling at the cop. It looks like she’s giving the cop a hard time for making the arrest. The reality is that’s not true at all. She was essentially cheerleading and saying, “You deserve to get arrested. What the heck are you doing beating on women? You need to go to jail.” But, apparently, George Gothner has no idea that that’s what it’s all about, so he runs over to her, thinking that she’s verbally assaulting his brother, and immediately tells her to shut the fuck up.

For Lancour’s part, for the crime of grazing Gothner’s cheek with one finger while he was beating her head on a car hood, she was initially charged with felony assault of a police officer. Adding insult to injury—literally—Officer Gothner also requested in his report that Lancour pay him $85 in restitution, to cover the cost of the pants he had ripped while throwing her to the pavement.
Over the course of time, Lancour’s charges have slowly been reduced. In March, DA Blank reduced her charge from felony assault to misdemeanor obstruction. On October 31, following the release of Bourg’s report, Blank dismissed Lancour’s charges altogether.
The story may not be over. Lancour’s lawyer, Rick Gondik, has objected to Bourg’s report. “The irony is he’s essentially finding all of the elements necessary to charge Officer Gothner, but then opining and concluding that he doesn’t have enough to charge,” Gondik told reporters. He has requested that Bourg reconsider his report. If criminal charges are not forthcoming, the possibility of a civil case being filed against Gothner and the Superior police department is still very real.
So what have we learned?

(1) Social media can drive action. The Superior police department did not react to Officer George Gothner’s behavior until the dash cam video surfaced on YouTube. Then they suddenly got very concerned.

(2) Gothner made Lancour the criminal. She wasn’t doing anything wrong initially. Gothner yelled at her to “shut the fuck up,” and when she failed to obey this lawful police order to his liking, he arrested her. As soon as he did that, the consequences of her actions became much more severe, and it all went downhill from there. In short, Gothner manufactured Lancour’s criminality, and then he beat her for resisting.

(3) Any cop can make any civilian a criminal, by telling them to shut the fuck up and then arresting them if they don’t.

(4) We now know that Superior police officers can treat citizens at least as severely as George Gothner treated Natasha Lancour, and nothing will happen to them. They may be put on paid administrative leave for a while, and maybe the chief will make a frowny-face on the nightly news once or twice, and they might be embarrassed when local church leaders wonder why they’re telling prisoners that God doesn’t exist—but nothing drastic will change in their lives.

(5) If the law says cops can beat down civilians on a whim, sooner or later they’ll start doing it.

Krug closure
After City Council President Linda Krug lost control and started yelling at Councilor Jennifer Julsrud during the October 27 meeting, City Councilor Jay Fosle added a resolution to the next meeting’s agenda removing Krug from her position.
There will be no need to consider this resolution. At the council’s agenda session of November 6, Krug resigned as president and turned over the reins to Vice President Emily Larson. Krug still did not appear to believe she had done anything wrong, but her observation that the whole issue constituted an unnecessary distraction from council business was absolutely correct. By stepping down, Krug put it all behind in an instant. It was the most practical thing she could have done.