Superior chief deems officer's use of force appropriate

A Superior police officer was given a 10-hour unpaid suspension for his actions regarding the videotaped Jan. 5 arrest of a woman in the parking lot outside Keyport Liquor and Lounge which sparked allegations of abuse of force.

A Superior police officer was given a 10-hour unpaid suspension for his actions regarding the videotaped Jan. 5 arrest of a woman in the parking lot outside Keyport Liquor and Lounge which sparked allegations of abuse of force.

Video released shortly after the incident, shot by a dashboard camera in Officer George Gothner’s car show him shoving Natasha Lancour, 29, of Superior, onto the hood of the vehicle and striking her in the face with a closed fist as she reached toward his face and tried to pull away.

The suspension was given because Gothner used vulgarities when dealing with Lancour, and his mannerisms didn’t diffuse the situation, according to the department.

“It’s an absolute and utter joke,” said Attorney Rick Gondik, who represents Lancour.

Superior Police Chief Charles LaGesse said an internal investigation into the matter, which followed an independent prosecutor’s decision not to charge Gothner in connection with the incident, focused on two issues. The first was whether the use of force was reasonable and consistent with policy. The second was whether Gothner’s conduct and communication complied with department policies.


Gothner was originally placed on paid administrative leave, but later returned to the force in a desk job while awaiting review of the incident from a prosecutor and the department.

LaGesse said the findings on use of force were based on a Department of Justice Office of Law Enforcement Standards review of the incident, which found they were reasonable and consistent with the Superior Police Department’s policies, which align with training provided by the state.

“Our investigation found that Officer Gothner’s use of force is consistent with our policies, and reasonable and consistent with the training provided by Wisconsin,” LaGesse said. “While the force used in this arrest is difficult to view - and has caused many to question its appropriateness - the force was used in response to resistance and to the officer perceiving that Ms. Lancour was assaulting him. The use of force ended when control was established.”

It was determined, however, that Gothner’s conduct and communication with Lancour fell short of department policies.

“It was the finding of the investigation that Officer Gothner failed to utilize professional communication and was vulgar in his initial contact with Ms. Lancour; his words were a violation of several departmental policies,” the chief said.

LaGesse said he is unaware of any other Superior police officer being suspended for using vulgarities. He said such incidents would be handled normally by counseling the officer.

“The situation where the arrestee is yelling vulgarities, it’s not appropriate for the officer to respond in kind; a suspension of one day makes that point,” LaGesse said.

However, in this case, Gothner’s use of vulgarities and a mannerism that did not diffuse the situation prompted the suspension, the chief said.


“It’s basically slapping George Gothner on the wrist, if at all. It’s a joke. It’s a travesty,” Gondik said.

Godnik said the truth will come out when the civil case is heard, and Friday’s announcement of the discipline Gothner would face “sealed the deal” on filing a civil suit against the city.

“It’s nothing I didn’t expect,” Gondik said. “The system of how we judge officers has to change. We will not see anything come out of situations like this as long as the cops are giving attaboys to abusive cops. We need to have an outside agency look at the use of force.”

However, that was done. An investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice was reviewed by a special prosecutor and a John Doe hearing was held to determine if charges should be filed against Gothner. Special Prosecutor Fred Bourg, the Bayfield County district attorney, called Gothner’s actions “rude, in poor taste, and possibly, unnecessarily violent,” but decided not to file charges because of the burden of proof and the unlikelihood of a conviction.

Gondik appealed that decision Nov. 4, but said Friday he still hadn’t heard from Bourg in connection to the appeal.

Gothner is expected to return to patrol duty in the coming week, the chief said.

“The Superior Police Department places great value on our relationship with the community,” LaGesse said. “This trust has been eroded by this incident and we will strive to win that back through living up to the tenants of our mission statement. The Superior Police Department is sworn to protect, committed to justice and dedicated to professional service.”

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