Ashwaubenon board denies grievance involving traffic pursuit
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – After conducting a hearing in open session for more than 40 minutes June 22, the village board went into closed session and voted to deny a grievance from the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association (APSOA) involving an officer’s traffic pursuit.
The board’s action is the third step in the grievance process the village has with the union following denials by Public Safety Chief Brian Uhl and Village Manager Joel Gregozeski.
The final step in the grievance process following the board’s denial would be for the union to request an arbitration hearing with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC).
The APSOA’s attorney, Aaron Halstead, said June 23 it remains to be determined whether the union will seek arbitration.
The grievance involves a letter of reprimand officer Mackenzie Teske received after being found to have violated Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department policy for a March 24 pursuit he was involved in, causing damage to a squad vehicle and private property.
The union is seeking to remove the letter from Teske’s personnel file by arguing there was no just cause for the discipline, in which he is not eligible for promotions or special positions for a year within the department.
According to documents related to the grievance, Uhl determined Teske violated the pursuit policy by engaging in a pursuit for a retail theft offense.
The policy Uhl cited states officers may initiate a pursuit “when it is reasonable to believe that a suspect is attempting to evade arrest or detention by fleeing in a vehicle that has been given a signal to stop by a peace officer” and the following situations are present:
• The subject has committed or is attempting to commit a crime that involves an actual or threatened action that an officer reasonably believes resulted in or could result in death or great bodily harm to a person.
• The subject, if allowed to escape, is likely to cause injury or death to a person or persons.
• When an officer believes the operation of a motor vehicle, prior to the initiation of a pursuit, and evaluates that the continued operation of this vehicle would cause great bodily harm and/or an immediate risk to the public.
• When an officer believes the apprehension of a subject would be a benefit to the community because of the offenses committed. However, the pursuit shall not escalate as it would under conditions of great bodily harm as mentioned in points one or three. The intent is to facilitate the apprehension of the pursued driver, but not at the expense of creating a greater danger to the public.
Documents contained in the grievance state dash camera footage showed the suspect Teske pursued drove at higher rates of speed, driving left of center, failing to stop at controlled intersections and eventually leaving the road and driving through private property.
“PSO Teske pursued the suspect at alternating speeds up to 40 to 60 mph,” Gregozeski said in his letter denying the grievance.
“Furthermore, PSO Teske followed the suspect off the road and onto private property, causing damage to the squad vehicle and private property as a result.”
Teske was also found to have violated the pursuit policy Dec. 20, 2020, for which he received a non-disciplinary letter of counseling.
He appeared in person before the board regarding the grievance along with APSOA President Eric Paulowski and Secretary Melanie Lovato.
Paulowski said the department’s pursuit policy changed last fall, after which no training was provided to officers before the pursuit Teske was involved in last December.
“It’s important to note that he did not initiate that (December) pursuit,” Paulowski said. “He requested assistance, along with multiple other officers from the village.”
Following that pursuit, the grievance documents state Deputy Chief Nick Kozloski provided training to all shifts and reviewed the pursuit policy and the department’s expectations.
Kozloski told the board he took responsibility for not providing officers the training prior to last December’s pursuit.
“I should have probably provided some kind of guidance on that since there were some changes made,” he said. “However, having said that, that’s why I think we were a little bit more lenient in that counseling report that was done in January (after the December pursuit) to kind of provide that teachable moment and get them on board with where we’re at with that new policy.”
Paulowski and Teske both told the board a policy violation occurred related to the March 24 pursuit.
“We acknowledge there were mistakes made in the pursuit in March,” Paulowski said. “The concern and the contention before the board tonight is whether or not this is a subsequent offense.”
Paulowski said the non-disciplinary counseling letter Teske received for the December pursuit is being used as progressive discipline.
“(The counseling letter) specifically states it’s non-discipline, cannot be used as any progressive discipline in our point of view, and it’s very clearly being used as progressive discipline,” he said.
Gregozeski said he determined the March 24 pursuit, on its own, would warrant a letter of reprimand, after Teske received training on the policy change, regardless of the letter of counseling previously issued.
Teske said he took responsibility for violating the policy in March.
“I’m a go-getter,” he said. “I’ve just got to calm it down a little bit…”