La Crosse police release bodycam video from October Houska Park incident

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — La Crosse police say an officer’s use of force at a Houska Park incident last month was justified.

Police say the officer was responding to a welfare check at the park. In a police report, Officer Daniel Howe says he was flagged by a parks department employee who said an individual in the park was calling him slurs.

From there, things escalated.

We received a tip, accusing La Crosse police officers of excessive use of force. After reviewing bodycam video and police reports, we learned that is only part of the story.

“You never know what type of a call you’re going to go on, so you need to be alert, and you need to be aware of your surrounding and you need to constantly be looking at the safety,” said La Crosse Police Dept. Capt. Avrie Schott.

At Houska Park on Oct. 5, Howe was put to the test. He arrived on scene alone.

“The individual chose not to want to comply. And sometimes that does happen, even with the best intentions and best efforts of our staff members,” Schott said.

The man refused to put his arms behind his back– and began to physically struggle with officer Howe. Howe took his hands off the man and ordered him to the ground.

When the man refused that order, Howe forced him to the ground.

“He did reach and grab for on the officer’s taser, which ends up being a whole other level of safety for the officer, for the individual, for the other individuals and community members that are in the immediate area,” Schott said.

Howe struck him in the shoulders with his knee.

Captain Avrie Schott said Howe’s use of force was appropriate.

Officer Howe was surrounded by a crowd and says he worked to de-escalate.

“Our policy is about only using the force necessary to gain that compliance,” Schott said.

Officers joined to back up Howe, but preparing for situations like these takes time.

“Conversations, there is practice, there are videos, there is reading over our policies and our procedures,” Schott said.

Schott said officers are constantly taking the time to address incidents and improve.

“We’re always asking– ‘How do we get better?’ and looking at every situation. because we do want to be leaders in the community,” Schott said.

Police say that Officer Howe’s use of force followed procedure and was cleared. They arrested suspect Edison Quesada Varela.

He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting, and criminal damage to property. He has since been released from jail.

Last year… just over 1% of La Crosse police department interactions involved the use of force. That percentage lines up with the last three years.

If you’d like to learn more about the department’s use of force policy, that information is available on the city’s Transparency in Policing web page.