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Silence speaks volumes in the Quadren Wilson case

The bizarre and opaque news cycle around a high-profile police shooting.

The bizarre and opaque news cycle around a high-profile police shooting. | By Oona Mackesey-Green and Scott Gordon

Quadren Wilson was shot five times in the back on February 3 on Madison’s east side when federal, state and local law enforcement pinned Wilson’s car between unmarked SUVs at a stoplight and officers opened fire. Wilson survived, and when he was released from the hospital after surgery, he was immediately booked into the Dane County Jail on an unspecified probation violation. More than a week later, Wilson’s family and lawyer are still demanding to know which officers shot him, and why, and that law enforcement release Wilson from jail.

Wilson’s is the latest high-profile case of police shooting a Black person in Madison under highly unclear circumstances. Protestors gathered during press conferences held by Wilson’s family last Wednesday and Friday to call for transparency and accountability. 

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“I can’t recall, in 38 years of practicing law, in any type of case, where 21 officers swooped down on a guy in a situation like this,” Wilson’s attorney, Steve Eisenberg, told Tone Madison. 

After two SUVs smashed into Wilson’s small silver sedan, one from the front and one from the rear, Eisenberg says, four or five officers came out with guns. Officers told Wilson—who was unarmed—to put his hands up.

“His hands went up,” Eisenberg says. “And then he was shot.”

Wilson’s mother, Stacy Morris, told the Wisconsin State Journal that Wilson heard more than 20 shots fired. He rolled over, leaning on the passenger seat after being shot, Eisenberg says. “And some officer jumped on top of him and remained on top for about three or four minutes,” Eisenberg says. “And said ‘you move, motherfucker, I’m going to kill you.’ And it wasn’t until about three or four minutes later that another cop said ‘that’s enough, get off.'”

After about ten minutes in the car with five bullet holes in his back, officers handcuffed Wilson before he was loaded onto a gurney and brought to the hospital. 

“Quadren said to me, ‘I thought I was dead. And I prayed to God, I wasn’t gonna die,'” Eisenberg recalls. “That’s what he said.”

From Friday to Sunday, Eisenberg was unable to locate Wilson. “Nor would anybody tell me or accept responsibility for where he was,” says Eisenberg. Other than knowing that law enforcement officials were attempting to arrest Wilson on a Department of Corrections (DOC) warrant, neither Eisenberg, Wilson nor Wilson’s family have been provided with information about that warrant or the alleged probation violation that Wilson has been incarcerated for. “I get the Madison newspapers online and I get the releases, just like you do,” says Eisenberg. 

On Friday, Madison365 reported that the DOC claimed it issued an “apprehension request” for Wilson on February 3, before law enforcement officers descended on Wilson. After the initial publication of this story, Madison365’s Rob Chappell emphasized that he was skeptical of this assertion:

For more than a week, none of the multiple law enforcement agencies involved in the arrest and investigation would confirm who shot Wilson. The officers’ names still haven’t been released, but on Friday, February 11 the Dane County Sheriff’s Office (DSCO) confirmed that two officers from the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) fired their weapons at Wilson. The 21 officers at the scene that morning included 13 DCI agents, three federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, three Madison Police Department (MPD) officers, one Wisconsin State Patrol trooper, and one Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources warden.

Information has slowly trickled out to the public in the days since the shooting, in bits and pieces scattered across various articles quoting law enforcement agencies, Wilson’s mother Stacy Morris, his father Nora Morris, and his brother Mane Morris, as well as attorney Eisenberg. Journalists across local online, print, TV, and radio outlets have covered the case with admirable vigor, despite and perhaps because of law enforcement’s lack of transparency.

Aside from scant statements from MPD and the Sheriff’s Office, the little information we know is largely out there because Wilson’s family and lawyer have repeatedly spoken with media in articles and at a press conference. They’re demanding transparency and accountability from law enforcement, and medical care for Wilson. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Wilson’s mother, Stacy Morris, was only allowed to see Wilson in the hospital for about five minutes because he was already in custody for a probation violation. When Morris asked a doctor how many times Wilson had been shot, the doctor referred her to the police.

Meanwhile, the multiple law enforcement departments at the scene have largely stayed silent. Their silence is telling.

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The slow and piecemeal disclosures about what happened to Wilson has some parallels in law enforcement’s handling of the case of Katoine Richardson, who is also Black, in October 2021. MPD and the Wisconsin DOJ initially revealed to the public that officers had arrested Richardson in an altercation in Downtown Madison, and that an MPD officer was shot during the incident. The clear, if unstated, implication was that Richardson had shot the officer. It took more than a week for the DOJ to reveal that, in fact, a fellow MPD officer accidentally fired the shots. Even relatively moderate commentators in Madison media, including the State Journal’s Esther J. Cepeda and Isthmus’ Dave Cieslewicz, criticized law enforcement’s poor and damaging communication about the incident. 

Recent reporting from Channel 3000 noted that the DOJ has, unusually, not named the officers involved in three out of four officer-involved shootings in the Madison-area within the last four months.

Both Wilson and Richardson’s stories underscore how extensively law enforcement controls the flow of crucial information to the public and the press. And in this case even Eisenberg, Wilson’s lawyer, has had trouble getting information from law enforcement, largely relying on media reports to fill the gaps.

The Dane County Sheriff’s office, along with support from the Sun Prairie Police Department, is investigating Wilson’s shooting because both DCI—which usually would serve as an “independent law enforcement agency” to investigate officer-involved shootings—and MPD were on-scene during the shooting. MPD said in an incident report that three MPD officers were “assisting in the outer perimeter of the DCI investigation,” and did not fire their weapons or witness the shooting.

At the time of Wilson’s shooting, he was wearing a GPS ankle monitor. Wilson was scheduled to meet with his probation officer (PO) on Wednesday, February 2, the day before the shooting. 

“Quadren was under the impression that he was going in to see his PO because he had requested his PO for a pass or permission to leave the state of Wisconsin for Valentine’s Day,” says Eisenberg, “so he and his girlfriend could go down to Chicago.” Because Wilson was on probation, he needed permission to leave the state. 

On Tuesday, February 1, Wilson’s PO called to move the meeting to Friday, February 4, says Eisenberg.

“So everybody and their mother knew that he was coming in on Friday to meet with his PO. Why in the world do they have to do the Rambo attack on Thursday? And on top of this, they knew where he was every waking moment because he was on GPS,” says Eisenberg. “I cannot tell you how astounded and amazed I am at this, the way the police handled this. I am just shocked, and I want answers, and so does the family.”

What we don’t know

At the time of publication, Wilson was still in the Dane County jail on a probation hold, though Eisenberg and Wilson’s family have said that they still don’t know the reason for the hold. 

“As much as I’ve tried to determine and find out what the allegation is for the hold I have not been provided with a responsive answer,” Eisenberg says. “I have no idea why they’re holding Mr. Quadren, despite my repeated requests to find out.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, February 9, Wilson’s brother Mane Morris said that Wilson was in pain, and that his bandages were bloody and not being changed, and that he was being kept in a segregated unit. Wilson’s family called for law enforcement to bring Wilson back to the hospital while he recovered. Eisenberg said on Friday that Quadren is persevering the best he can. “What requests have we made? Well, that the jail take care of him, change his bandages, provide him with pain meds, and as far as I know, the jail is cooperating with performing those tasks,” Eisenberg says. “We would, of course, like to have him out of jail. And that’s what we’re working on doing.”

Eisenberg says that under the current conditions of Wilson’s probation, the state can hold him for up to 13 working days. As of Friday, Wilson had been in custody for five days. Eisenberg is hopeful that Wilson will be released sometime this week.

Footage provides only a partial record 

In its February 11 release, DSCO confirmed that none of the 21 officers on-scene were wearing body cameras. Seven vehicles, in addition to Wilson’s, can be seen in traffic camera footage, with additional law enforcement vehicles arriving in the following minutes. Yet no dash camera footage has been released; at least one open-records request for the footage was denied

The few images that have been released of the scene where officials shot Wilson are stark. A small silver sedan is sandwiched bumper-to-bumper between two unmarked trucks in what looks like a turn lane, between curbs, at the intersection of American Parkway and East Park Boulevard. The traffic camera footage shows the intersection, but not Wilson’s car, in the moments when DCI presumably trapped him and opened fire. An SUV with interior flashing lights drives through the intersection, and stops partially off-screen. Then the traffic camera rotates, revealing Wilson’s penned-in sedan with at least 20 law enforcement officers and seven vehicles on-scene. The timestamp at the bottom of the footage then skips ahead from 8:19 a.m. to 8:21 a.m. If DCI agents shot Wilson before 8:19 a.m., while the camera is pointed away from the scene, Wilson remains inside his car for at least six minutes before an ambulance arrives.

In any other situation where a citizen is charged with something like this, says Eisenberg, they’re investigated right away. “But the police, the police get time,” Eisenberg says. “They get time to go and collect their thoughts and they schedule a meeting with police officers involved with something like this a few days later. Give time to get counsel and give time to talk to the Union reps on it.”

Eisenberg adds: “It’s a very one-sided investigative process.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify Madison365’s reporting on the story.

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