DeForest mayor: Police chief who made racist video rejects $120k severance offer

August 1, 2018

DeForest’s village board is set to decide next week whether to pursue a formal complaint against the village’s police chief, who says he wants to remain in his position now that an investigation into racist comments he made in an 11-year-old video has been completed.

Village Board President Judd Blau said Tuesday that chief Daniel Furseth on July 19 declined the village’s offer to resign with a severance package worth six months’ pay and accrued sick and vacation time, for a total of about $120,000. Furseth has worked for the village for 29 years, including the last year as its police chief, but has been on paid leave since May 23.

Furseth’s attorney, Daniel Bach, said “there was no agreement ever reached on anything” and that his client “would like to remain chief.”

The Village Board will meet Aug. 7 to decide whether to file a complaint against Furseth with the village’s Police Commission, which is able to mete out punishment up to and including termination. The board will share its decision publicly after meeting in closed session, Blau said.

The 36-second video first posted to YouTube on Dec. 2, 2015, shows a group of five well-dressed black men walking from their car through a parking lot to a Steak ’n Shake restaurant.

Using a deeply stereotypical urban black voice, Furseth narrates the action:

“We’ze out on our date. We got the bitches and we gonna get ‘em and we gonna give ’em food. Got my cane. I gots my suit. Oh baby, I got a car alarm on my Impala. All right, boys, let’s go in. This is the fanciest-ass restaurant we ever been to. And it is called the Steak and Shake.”

Furseth made the video before he was chief but after he had been promoted to a rank above patrol officer, Blau said. Furseth told an outside investigator hired by the village that he didn’t intend the video to be racist but understood how it could be seen that way.

The former police intern who posted the video, Alexei Strelchenko, told WISC-TV Ch. 3 that Furseth made the video using Strelchenko’s camera and that he posted it to YouTube in retaliation for being cited in DeForest with disorderly conduct related to his use of a drone. He told the station he wanted to get Furseth fired.

Revelation of the video sparked an outside investigation into racial bias in the department. The report of that investigation, released July 13, detailed “some indicators of possible implicit racial bias in the DeForest Police Department” but “a lack of evidence to support a finding of explicit or overt racial discrimination or bias in the department.”

Bach pointed to this second finding as reason Furseth should be retained.

“The ball is in the village’s court,” he said.

The report also found that blacks were disproportionately likely to be stopped and arrested by DeForest police, noting that while blacks make up only about 0.5 percent of the village’s population, they accounted for 15.3 percent of its arrests from the beginning of 2014 to June 19 of this year. Similar racial disparities in the criminal justice system have long been evident in Madison and Dane County generally.

Among the report’s recommendations is for officers to go through racial bias training.

Update hourly