Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief
The Arena Police Committee did not take any disciplinary action against Arena Police Chief Nicholas Stroik following a complaint from an area resident who said she felt harassed and targeted by the chief.
The committee met June 29 to hear from an Iowa County Sheriff’s detective, Brian Fitzsimons, on his findings in an investigation of a traffic stop between Stroik and Arena area resident LaNessa Goforth.
“This wasn’t an overly complicated incident because of the bodycam footage,” said Fitzsimons. “It’s taken up her time, some of those things can be embarrassing and she can feel those things.”
In the complaint, dated May 28, 2021, Gorforth detailed her interactions with Stroik, which she said has made her fear for her safety when she has contact with him. Goforth and Stroik had three separate interactions, the first at the Crappie Shop in Arena, after a complaint was called into the police department regarding a potentially intoxicated individual.
In the complaint, Goforth said she was accused of drunk driving and given a field sobriety test, which she states she was never given the results to. The complaint says Goforth was later accused of having THC during the incident.
In his report to the committee, Fitzsimons said Stroik asked Goforth to find a ride home, as he believed she was not able to safely operate a vehicle.
“I would have made the same decision,” said Fitzsimons.
Fitzsimons said the Iowa County Sheriff’s office, who shares policing duties with the village department, does have a specially trained officer to detect drug use, however the officer was on the other side of the county, and Stroik would have had to ask for the officer to travel to Arena, which he decided against, in an effort to move the situation forward.
The second interaction between Goforth and Stroik was at a residence in which the police were called to, which resulted in the warranted arrest of a male at the residence. Fitzsimons said Stroik was not involved in the arrest, nor in the decision to arrest the male, instead assisting with the general call to the residence.
The third and most recent interaction between the individuals was a traffic stop initiated by Stroik, when he believed Goforth did not stop at a stop sign, which Goforth states is inaccurate, and that Stroik would not have been able to correctly see her driving from his position on the road prior to the traffic stop.
“This last incident he pulled me over claiming I didn’t stop at a stop sign. He was nowhere near me to make that determination and in fact I had realized where I had taken my complete stop was not close enough to give me a direct line of the oncoming traffic,” said Goforth.
In body camera footage of the traffic stop, Goforth’s driver’s side front seat door is open prior to Stroik exiting the vehicle. When Storik approached the vehicle, Goforth was recording the stop on her phone, and called Stroik a “racist ass police officer.”
In the complaint, Goforth said she always records interactions with Stroik because she fears for her and her children’s safety.
“I get I’m the only black person in his town but I don’t bother, harass or cause conflict with anyone. If he doesn’t want me in his town he can just say that instead of trying to make my life miserable by abusing his power,” wrote Goforth in her complaint.
Bodycam footage of the stop shows Stroik asked for identification and proof of insurance for the vehicle, which drivers in Wisconsin are required to have while operating a vehicle. Goforth stated she did not have proof of insurance in the vehicle at the time.
When Stroik tried to clarify whether Goforth had proof of insurance, she stated that she did, but didn’t have it in the vehicle, and told Stroik to contact her boyfriend for proof of insurance.
During the Police Committee’s viewing of the footage, Fitzsimons shared with the committee that providing proof of insurance is the responsibility of the driver, and they cannot expect an officer to go through the process of locating proof of insurance.
Following asking for insurance, Stroik peered into the back seat of the SUV, and asked Goforth the ages of the children riding in the vehicle. Initially, Goforth refused to give the ages but eventually gave the three children’s ages.
Stroik questioned if the children were in carseats, or if Goforth had carseats available for them, she responded by asking if Stroik was going to purchase car seats for the children.
Footage shows Stroik returning to his squad car to review Goforth’s information and write citations. While waiting for Stroik, Goforth exits her vehicle and looks to be recording Stroik’s actions.
Stroik exits his vehicle, stating to the camera he is going to see if she needs something.
Ultimately, Stroik gave Goforth three citations, one for failing to stop at a stop sign, one for driving without proof of insurance and one for failing to have her children in carseats. Stroik told Goforth she would likely be able to have the court lower fines for the ticket regarding insurance and child seats if she brings proof of having both to the court, and told her the police department has services to get her children car seats if she is unable to afford them.
Following the incident, Goforth said failing to stop at a stop sign, driving without insurance or not having her children in carseats are not things she has ever done or would do.
Fitzsimons shared with the committee that he found no wrongdoing by Storik.
“His voice never came up, we didn’t hear any aggressive rhetoric or language, he just didn’t do anything wrong,” said Fitzsimons. “Every one of us is going to have a different reaction to dealing with someone confrontational, this one is especially uncomfortable. As a white male officer there is nothing I can do to understand what she’s feeling. Here’s a perspective that I’m never going to be able to pretend to understand, as a black woman who has had previous life experiences that will make her feel this way. There is an opportunity here to learn and seek out some training.”
Fitzsimons didn’t recommend any disciplinary action, but did recommend the entire Arena Police Department undergo implicit bias and racial training.
“If there’s no evidence of wrongdoing, I see no need for any discipline,” said Melissa Bandell, Police Committee chairwoman.
The committee voted to take no action, and directed the department to complete the recommended training.
While Goforth said she isn’t upset with the outcome of the committee meeting and the complaint, she said she feels like the trainings won’t make a difference.
“I feel like if the Iowa County Sheriff’s office hadn’t suggested the training, they wouldn’t have done anything,” said Goforth.
Goforth said she has lived in the area for over 5 years, and there are people who are unwelcoming.
“Would I say I feel like I’m a part of the community? Not really. My children started playing baseball this year, and there were some parents who were standoffish. But there were some who did reach out and introduce themselves, so I wouldn’t say it’s the whole community,” said Goforth.
Goforth said she would be open to mediation or meeting with Stroik in the future, because she believes in second chances, but remains cautious of what something like that would accomplish.
“I believe in kindness,” said Goforth. “But he needs to come to it with an open mind too.”
Goforth said in terms of improvement the community can make to be more welcoming, she encourages family friendly activities and amenities, such as a splash pad, that brings people together and allows them the opportunity to become familiar.