Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes Mixed Messages About Public’s Right To Know

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes has placed himself into a position that no one can defend. Not conservatives, not liberals, not progressives. No one.

Usually, I find myself comfortably able to stand alongside our local police and give my support. Not this time.

Unlike past major episodes dealing with local police shootings, and actions taken (or perhaps more to the point not taken) by law enforcement to quell violent downtown rioting, there is no respectable ground for the police chief to stand on regarding Reginald Patterson. Or the way Matt Kenny was treated in 2021.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Barnes sent an internal message to officers that he would seek to fire anyone found to have leaked to the local media information about the resignation of a lieutenant who had been videotaped engaging in sexual activity with a woman in his squad car in a store parking lot.

But the desire by Barnes in promoting a self-serving message about another officer was even elevated to the office of the department’s spokesperson.

Matt Kenny, a police officer who shot and killed a 19-year-old who was highly combative and under the influence, was approached in 2021 by Barnes about voluntarily retiring.

Police Department spokesperson Stephanie Fryer said, “Since joining the Madison Police Department, the chief has heard from grieving family members and concerned citizens about the employment of Officer Kenny.”

There is a lot to unpack in those two stories.

First, there is a right of citizens to know what their public servants do while being paid for with tax dollars. That is not a new concept. When a 15-year employee of the department, no less, the West Police District’s head of the patrol, is caught in a sex act in a police car in broad daylight it does merit public scrutiny. Such lack of regard for sound judgment from someone who works for a department that does concern itself with public relations deserves public attention. But transparency was not the route our police chief chose to follow.

Police had refused to provide Patterson’s name until announcing his resignation, but the State Journal reported it on Oct. 14 after one current and one former department employee confirmed his identity. Six days later, in response to public records request by the State Journal, the department identified Patterson as the only department employee then on paid leave.

The fact is journalists, who report on the work of government and public officials, do rely on souces and tips so to fulfill their responsibility in a democracy. Such input from a wide array of sources, as proven in this case, ensures the public has a better understanding of what is happening with the departments and agencies they fund. As such, it was not proper to then have Barnes make the threat of firing anyone about a matter that did merit public notice.

From a public relations perspective, it appears that the desire to keep tight reins on information was more an issue for the police chief than the preposterous action taken by an officer on duty.

Regarding Officer Kenny, meanwhile, there was a true effort made to publicize an attempt to remove him from his job. For the record, I am glad that the story was reported. It, too, needs to be known by the public, as it shines a light on Chief Barnes. Sadly, his action in this matter demonstrates how he too plays to the anti-police sentiments held by some of the louder voices in this city.

Following the Tony Robinson shooting those who opposed the police attempted to frame our force as akin to other departments nationwide which have landed in the headlines.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We might recall that then Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, in a number of national interviews, proved his communications skills while outlining why Madison is a department that is head and shoulders above others.  Statistics also make the case why Madison police can not be summed up in pointless rhetoric from the anti-police crowd.

Matt Kenney was not found to be in any way negligent in the performance of his duties as a law enforcement officer.

So to have Barnes then seek the retirement of Kenny, an officer who acted professionally in the line of duty, is more than mystifying. It is infuriating. For Barnes to take that action is a back-handed slap to the entire police force.

It is difficult to have professionals akin to former Police Chief Koval continually serve in our city. But it sure would be nice if that were possible. When they are absent it is most noticeable.

And so it goes.

Madison Police Officer(s) Must Be Placed Inside East High School

Enough is enough.

Newscasts on Monday led with what once again was pure chaos and violence at Madison East High School. Dozens of students, at a time when data shows too many of them are failing in their education, tossed off the books and took to street brawling. With temperatures in the 60s, and apparently nothing more to learn on the first day of a school week, fistfights and pure mayhem broke out. Meanwhile, taxpayers in the city were treated to plenty of coverage concerning how their money is being spent.

Not on the use of textbooks, mind you. But rather on needed police activity so to battle violent teenagers at school.

If that opening sounds like this blogger is a mite upset with what is becoming the norm at East then score yourself competent in reading comprehension.

Channel 3000 reported in total, more than 15 officers responded. Barnes said an officer was hit in the face by a student during the incident; that student was cited for assault on an officer. Another student was cited for having an “edged weapon,” but police said they weren’t sure if it was scissors, a knife or some other object.

An officer was struck in the face trying to break up this fight. The officer attempted to detain this student, but family members and other students got in the way. Officers estimate around 250 students surrounded this fight with some of the students actively trying to get involved.

Many in this city, myself included, strongly urged the Madison School Board to not fall for the protest crowd’s mantra calling for the expelling of educational resource officers– city police–from our four public high schools.  I called such a proposal pure bull-crap. (This is a family-friendly blog, after all.) The board shunned logic and common sense and ousted the EROs–perhaps the only adult disciplinarian some students have in their lives.

If you wish to know what happens when the local school board kneels to the noisy contingents from the International Socialist Organization, Progressive Dane, and the Freedom Inc. Youth Brigade please refer to what (without doubt) will be front-page coverage in Tuesday’s Wisconsin State Journal.

The city was told that if we had police officers in the schools it would feed the “school-to-prison pipeline”.  Good Lord! It sure looks like some teenagers are more than able to take that path all by themselves, and are doing it most willingly. Perhaps the ones who shouted at the school board meetings about the police need to become mentors to troubled youth. There is a whole contingent at East High who could now be enrolled in such programming. That list is growing weekly.

It must not be forgotten that the community-minded EROs did have a large degree of popularity from many families in Madison. What proved difficult was to find the bandwidth to respond when it came to engaging with those who would shut down a street to make a point. The EROs, when in the schools, broke up many large-scale cafeteria fights and disarmed students bringing loaded weapons to school.

After today, we can again see why it is important to have such men and women in our schools to keep the students and staff safe from those who wish to inflict violence on others. Threats that we know all too well come from within and outside our schools.

Knowing that in order to quell the violence police were required to use pepper spray should stun everyone who reads the local news. Those students who came to school with violence and dangerous behavior in mind placed not only many students and teachers in harm’s way. They also struck out at men and women in blue.

Knowing that there are loose screws in the city allows me to state with assuredness that calling for the restriction of using pepper spray on teenagers will be heard in upcoming street protests and common council proceedings. That topic is coming again soon, from a local pol or community organizer needing some headline exposure.

For the rest of us, however, who think schools should be places of learning and not sites of multiple police cars and cruisers with lights flashing means that the citizenry must stand up collectively and demand that police again walk the halls of our public schools.

Enough playing to the loudest shouters on the street who truly have no idea what is required to make a classroom ready for learning. They have not a clue as to what a teacher endures to get just a short period of a class period filled with learning. Folks, we have to set some serious boundaries. Enough coddling of the violent ones in the schools who have no intention of learning, and who prove with the number of police calls only a desire to act disruptively, again and again.

There are students at East who know their path upwards in life is with a solid education. They are planning a college path and then onwards to their goals. They should not, must not, have their education stunted and their ambitions thwarted in any way by a segment of others in the school, who simply put, are not ready for polite society.

And so it goes.

Madison Mayor’s Mendacity

Since 2015, when Donald Trump rode down an escalator to begin the first of his tens of thousands of lies which journalists have reported over the years, this blog has been constantly reminding readers that character matters in the Oval Office. If one can not have faith an elected official is telling the truth on a daily basis, what happens when a crisis occurs and the public needs to be informed and believe their leader is credible?

This year we have seen the pitfalls that occur when a president lies to the nation continuously and now has no believability when it comes to dealing with a pandemic. In years past I argued that President George W. Bush did a grave disservice to the nation when his administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When the bond of trust is lost between citizen and leader there are damaging long-term consequences.

So it is with local leaders, too.

I was most dismayed and troubled to learn that Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway stepped on facts and truth concerning events surrounding a driver in a hit-and-run last summer. The fact she was alerted the man had been attacked prior to the incident and might have feared for his safety did not stop her from issuing a false and very misleading statement the next day which suggested the driver committed a hate crime.

The summer was a tense one in Madison as racial inequities made headlines and citizens rose up and made their voices heard about needed changes. But for the Mayor to steer the hit-and-run incident away from the facts and add it needlessly to the heat and passion underway was reckless and only added to the workload of law enforcement in the city.

Acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl told Rhodes-Conway that the driver reacted after people jumped into the bed of his truck and began “dancing on it.” The report adds that “The driver was punched in the face and that is when he drove into the crowd.”

That information did not stop the Mayor, however, from commenting in a way that ran counter to the facts.

“I fully support hate crime charges when they are warranted. My thoughts are with the victim and their family, as well as my wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Rhodes-Conway has lost the trust of the taxpayers in the city who are mindful that over-time this year for law-enforcement has been costly. So when a Mayor plays on existing anger and stokes false claims so to score some cheap points among a segment of her ever-shrinking base it does need to be called out and condemned.

Wherever this type of manipulation of the facts occurs it must be called out and highlighted. Be it Trump or the Madison Mayor the citizens deserve better.

Anisa Scott To Be Removed From Life Support: More Than A Family Should Need To Face


There could not have been a dry eye anywhere in Madison during the late-night news Wednesday.  I have watched many a tragic story unfold over the airwaves in my lifetime, but learning that 11-year-old Anisa Scott will be taken off life support following a driveby shooting just rips my heart.  The anguish and heartache the family shared tonight with an entire city have brought us all together.   But now what happens from our shared experience of grief over a glaring example of having too many guns on our streets?

The shooting of Anisa happened in the area of East Washington and Lexington Avenues at around 11:45 A.M. Tuesday.  Police said shots were fired from one vehicle to another, and believe the girl was riding in the car of the intended target.

What happened with the shooting itself is despicable enough, and the hell the family needed to go through to even learn of such a tragedy is one thing.  To then need to make the decision of removing life support from a child is something that I can not even begin to fathom how anyone processes.  The absolute hell that these loved ones are going through along with their strength to speak to us in front of Children’s Hosptial has moved a city to tears.

But we also must be moved to action.

What this family is going through should make us mad as hell about what is happening on our streets—and now to a bright smiling young girl.  There is a killer somewhere loose on the streets tonight who thought it was within his right to aim a deadly weapon at a driver of another car and pull the trigger.  How anyone becomes so removed from morals and any sense of even the most basic connections of humanity is more than I can ponder.  How others can not report the killer to the police is unconscionable.

This sweet kid will be removed from life support at 11:11 A.M. Thursday because she was shot on the 11th, and is 11 years old, her grandmother told reporters.  I know most of us watching the news wanted to somehow reach into our television screen and hug her and somehow make it all not true.

But gun violence is deadly and all too real.  It does not happen ‘over there’ or ‘to other people’.  It happens all the time and all too close to our communities.   We must get serious about it, or there will be more grandmothers who will need to share with us what hell feels like.

To the loved ones of Anisa there are no words of comfort.  And thoughts and prayers are a piss-poor response.  If we really care for this family we will demand in voices loud enough so no can miss hearing them that we MUST have gun control measures enacted so bright smiling kids are not killed.  Some angry old man ranting about his interpretation of the Second Amendment IS NOT more important than the hope that was extinguished when Anisa was shot in the head from a gun.   

Enough is simply enough.  

Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway Fails At Leadership: Madison Police Vote 95% “No Confidence”

The Madison Professional Police Officers Association did not need to alert us to the facts regarding Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway.  They approved a vote of no confidence in her stewardship of the city, but all one needs to do is walk down any street and strike up a conversation to best understand the deep concerns residents have about the mayor.

Her “unhealthy portrayal” of police creates an “us versus them” dichotomy, the union said in a statement, that “is particularly dangerous at a time when city agencies and entities should be working collaboratively to address an increase in burglaries, car thefts, weapons offenses (including shots being fired daily all over the city) and, sadly, attempted and completed homicides too often claiming the lives of young Madisonians.

Her tenure has been a colossal failure of leadership.   A professional, who often interacts with the powers of the city government, told me last week no matter who is in the room with the mayor, she believes she is still the smartest one.  That blunder in self-judgment accounts for much of the mess that has unfolded since she took office.

Rhodes-Conway is not well-suited for the office she holds, having amply demonstrated her profound lapses in judgment as State Street was looted and our police officers not supported.  That is, in part, why there is now an attempt to recall her from office.

The recall effort has now been offered a very credible foundation with the announcement of the police union vote.  I was hoping and waiting for a seasoned and responsible segment of the city to stand up and offer a reason that people should engage with the recall effort. 

I was not at all pleased with the partisan nature of those who first assembled the recall.  I have withheld any mention of the recall from this blog for that very reason.  Having a former Republican assembly candidate as the lead messenger was a dreadful start to what should have been a more inclusive and broad-based approach to meet the needs of the city.

And Madison is in need of real leadership now.  To get there we need more voices like that of the police union heard,  and far fewer missives from Jon Rygiewicz, who filed a petition with the city clerk to begin circulating petitions to force Rhodes-Conway into a recall election.

No one can be pleased with the lack of leadership from this mayor over the past months.  Our city can not afford to think about three more years of having ‘the smartest one in the room’.

And so it goes.


Male Apprehended On Spaight St. After Multi-Car Police Effort


Kudos to the Madison Police Department as the armed robbery was reported to have occurred at roughly 11:11 A.M. and the sirens were howling on the 900 block of Spaight at approximately 11:15 this morning, followed only minutes later with the felon who had used a gun in the crime being taken into custody.  Thanks for MPD’s efforts and continued fine work for our city.


Madison police arrested a man who allegedly robbed a downtown cafe Sunday morning.

According to the incident report, officers were sent to Ground Zero Coffee on 744 Williamson St. after a report of an armed robbery involving a handgun at 11:11 a.m. Police said the robber ran off with an unknown amount of cash and headed away from the State Capitol on Willy Street.

Deputies from a Dane County Boat Unit helped with checking the area and found someone at BB Clarke Beach who matched the robber’s description. The report said Nathaniel Homestead was changing his clothes before leading police on a chase.

Homestead faces tentative charges of armed robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Sunday morning at approximately 11:15 a series of back and forth police cars, with sirens blazing was seen and heard on Spaight Street.  With a number of cars then zooming to, and stopping on the 900 block, officers took high note of the lakeside portion between two homes.  It was there, as reported by observers, that a Caucasian male was apprehended and placed into the back of a squad car.  The person was seen running prior to the police’s arrival and then seen hiding behind bushes of a Spaight Street home.  Reports from some on the ground are that he then ran to the back of a lot and was in or near a boathouse when the police took him into custody.    Rumors of a drowning had been also running around at the time of the police activity, but there is no substance to those reports.

Thanks to the fine men and women in blue who performed their duties on this otherwise serene and warm day on the isthmus.

(We now send it back to the station…….Les Nessman reporting.)





Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway Needs To Resign Following Rampage At Wisconsin State Capitol

It is nearing 4:30 A.M. Wednesday morning as I write and post this blog entry.  This painful time in our city demands leadership.  The first step forward is for Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway to do the only honorable thing left to her.  She must resign her office.  She is in a job that is over her head and has proven not able to protect our city.

I never took for granted the feelings while walking to work at the Wisconsin State Capitol.  The grandeur of the building while approaching it, the history within its walls, the rotation of plants and blooms, and the hope the structure holds for citizens of each political party.  Late Tuesday night this blogger had tears in his eyes when just hearing the first news of what had happened.

The pictures punched so deep I reached out to a friend who had also worked in the building, in fact had been my predecessor in the office. (All the photos used on this post are from various news outlets in the state.)

Those images are simply painful to see.  Statutes were ripped down, large flower pots wrecked, wonderfully old-type lights busted, and graffiti all about.

The statues of Wisconsin’s motto “Forward” and of Col. Hans Christian Heg were chained and dragged away.  Heg was an anti-slavery activist who fought and died for the Union during the Civil War.  His nearly 100-year-old sculpture was decapitated and thrown into Lake Monona.

How many times over the 30 years, while living in this city, have I taken visitors on a guided tour of the Capitol and stopped at the base of the Heg statue?  Tonight this is what was left before pushing it into the chilly lake.


I worked in a ground floor office, and when looking out my window towards State Street “Forward’ stood proud and tall.  Jesse Jackson had used our office for his coat, and those of his campaign staff, prior to speaking to a large Madison crowd the night before  Primary Day in 1988.  He would have looked down the iconic view towards State Street and seen the statue in the late afternoon sun.

That statue was ripped down and dragged through the streets.


The original Forward statue was first placed in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in 1895. Tuesday night a replica commissioned in the 1990s was destroyed. Forward is “an allegory of devotion and progress,” according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.


Police were no where to be seen during this period of rampaging.  The city demands answers and quite frankly there is only one thing Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway can do at this point.  That is to resign her office by sundown on Wednesday.  The damage she has allowed to take place on too many nights in this city can not in any shape, manner, or form be allowed to continue.  Taxpayers can not afford to continue to foot her bill for repairs.  

But more importantly the damage she has done to the spirit of our populace by not demonstrating an ounce of leadership or resolve to protect our city can not continue.  A board of directors would not even wait to brew the coffee for the crowded conference room attendees.  They would simply dismiss someone outright for a such a colossal and unmitigated disaster as which took place in Madison.  

We can endure a lot as a city.  We can put up with bureaucratic sloppiness over a raft of issues and pay the tax increases for projects not totally thought out.  But we can no longer accept or pretend there is a shred of competency in this mayor, or any regard for the best interests of Madison.  

Tuesday night Mayor Rhodes-Conway crossed her rubicon. She must now resign her office for the best interests of Madison.

Leadership Woes With Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway Regarding Madison Protests

I get up each morning and look out my favorite window to be greeted by the day.  I look up at the American flag to see from where the wind is blowing.  It gives me a sense of the weather.  But when it comes to my leaders, be they in the city or nation, I am trusting they are grounded and not susceptible to being blown about by the latest currents.

That is not, however, what I have discovered in Madison with Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.  She has bobbed and wavered about when it comes to a coherent message in the days following protests and riots in our city.

The issue at hand is over a video that Rhodes-Conway released where she is empathizing with Madison Police Department officers.  Those who are in the vanguard of protesting in our city took offense over those words.  Then the mayor apologized to the activists for her remarks to the police.

In politics, it is never a good idea to give thoughts and views which are not honed so to be understood by one’s entire constituency.  When it appears that a message is delivered for a select audience, and in this case as WKOW-TV reported it was a private video to police, it never comes out to make the public official look good, and only winds up providing the electorate with buyer’s remorse.  That is where we now find ourselves with Rhodes-Conway.  It leaves Madison police in a no-mans land and residents wondering if the mayor has any guiding principles.

I strongly suspect most in this city understand that the vast majority of our local police are committed to public safety and just outcomes.  Many police were as pained by the video from Minneapolis as the rest of us, and we must realize that fact. To be sure there are some bad cops in the local department, that is the way of life in every profession, and they must be rooted out and removed.  But the majority of our cops do us proud.  There is nothing wrong with the mayor making sure the police know they are respected by many in this city, or demonstrating to the public at large that she shares our regard for the men and women in blue.

So far, so good.

But then she made a political blunder of the kind that one would only suspect a novice able to commit with such alacrity.  The mayor apologized via a statement and recorded video for not centering the message that “Black lives matter” in her video to the police.  In so doing Rhodes-Conway made it appear that it was an all-or-nothing moment in city politics.  She seems not able to convince even herself that one can be opposed to the death of black men from police choke-holds, and at the same time able to state matter-of-factly that Madison police serve us well.  To float about in search of a way to convey those two ideas in one presentation makes her look rudderless.  

In her message to the police, she stated that “communications can be really, really hard.” It is assumed that when one enters the arena of mayoral elections that the candidate already possesses the ability to clearly articulate and present ideas.  Pardon us as voters, if we were unaware of the ease with mangling a message to this degree.  And doing that mangling at the very time when we needed the best leadership, and the most professional of tones, that any mayor could garner in that office.

I get the fact that every mayor has a substantial amount of pressure being exerted from all sides of an issue.  But as a voter and resident of Madison, I always trust that all who take the oath have firm principles from which they will act during trying times.   Having one unifying message for the whole city that made it clear how we can stand together should have been the goal.   Allowing a split message has only further splintered this city. And weakened her as mayor.

That should concern us all.