Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth issued a public apology Monday amid backlash for his comments during a news conference late last week.
On Thursday, Beth spoke to the media after the arrest of five suspects Wednesday who had allegedly stolen approximately $4,800 in merchandise from a Prime Outlets mall store in Pleasant Prairie.
While evading police, the suspects’ car, driven by Sandra Smith, 20, of Milwaukee, crashed into another vehicle at the intersection of 88th Avenue and 38th Street. However, no one was seriously injured.
“I think at some point society has to get so fed up that they are no longer willing to tolerate people who are not an asset to society,” Beth said at the news conference. “I think we have to create a threshold where, once you cross the threshold, Wisconsin, the United States, builds warehouses where we put these people who have been deemed to be no longer an asset, that are really a detriment, like these five people.
“I have no issue with these five people completely disappearing. At (this) point, these people are no longer an asset to our community, and they just need to disappear.”
While initially stating that he was “tired of being politically correct” during the news conference, after meeting with members of the Kenosha NAACP Monday, Beth acknowledged that he can see how his comments may have offended people.
“In the press conference, I should have kept my comments better directed toward the incident itself and not allowed my emotions to get the better of me at the time,” Beth said in his letter of apology. “I have been involved in hundreds of on camera interviews and press conferences and have shared my emotions before, but never in this fashion or this extent.
“My goal is to do my best to protect those that live, work, play or travel through Kenosha County. In the situation last week, my comments did not necessarily live up to even my own expectations for my office, and I again apologize.”
Though he released the letter to the media, Beth could not be reached for comment Monday.
Meeting with NAACP
After her meeting with Beth, Kenosha NAACP president Veronica King said she believed his apology was a good start.
However, she said she would like to continue to meet with him.
“I was pleased that he recognized that he deviated in that press conference. He admitted he let his emotions get the best of him, and he said some things that he could have phrased differently,” she said.
King said she also sensed his frustration, especially regarding victims of crime.
“Victims are very important to him. And as a public safety person, he should be concerned,” she said. “That still doesn’t give you a reason to deviate and let your emotions take control.”
King said Beth’s comments about “warehousing” individuals for life were inappropriate, saying treatment and rehabilitation should be the goals.
“You don’t warehouse human beings,” she said.
King said she asked Beth if his response would have been the same if the suspects were white.
“He said, ‘Absolutely,’” she said. “He didn’t care what race they were and that race wasn’t a factor in his statement.”
However, King said, the alleged crimes don’t lead to life sentences.
“These are people who at some point down the road would be released,” she said. “These aren’t individuals who have been charged with homicides or violent sex offenses.”
The NAACP wasn’t the only group upset with Beth’s comments.
Forward Kenosha, a political action group, also called on Beth to issue an apology and participate in “anti-bias” training for himself and his department.
King said the NAACP is proposing a forum, co-hosted with Congregations United to Serve Humanity, with criminal justice experts to address the current climate for law enforcement.
“We look at the Ferguson (Mo.) situation and how has policing changed since then,” she said. “And we have President Trump, who speaks what he feels. Is he opening up the door to individuals to say whatever they feel?”
She said she believes Beth’s actions were “an isolated incident.”
“I don’t think it’s a reflection of the entire Sheriff’s Department,” she said. “I think he’ll have a much more prepared statement next time, and I think this is a learning lesson for him.
“I think the community has spoken. We got the remorse we felt was warranted. We’ll be meeting with him again.”