Following an investigation into the use of a gender-based profanity by a male voice at a Madison Common Council meeting last year, experts could not conclusively identify the individual who muttered the profanity.
Sept. 2, a gender-based slur was muttered during a virtual city council meeting. During this meeting, the word “c***” was said in the Zoom meeting after Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway invited Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores to speak during the meeting.
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The derogatory term triggered a months-long investigation authorized by the city council Oct. 6 after Kilfoy-Flores filed a complaint alleging that Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, uttered the word.
The council passed a resolution to investigate the complaint, allocating up to $10,000 to conduct a forensic IT analysis to examine data and other relevant digital information in the Zoom software, according to a memo from City Attorney Michael Haas.
The results of the forensic IT study, executed by USA Forensic LLC, yielded inconclusive results, according to a news release from the City of Madison. Primary analyst and author of the report Bryan Neumeister said in the report the forensic evidence available was “not enough information” to narrow down the speaker with a “scientific degree of certainty.”
Because Zoom did not provide enough data about the IP addresses to track down the exact speaker, Neumeister said he was unable to determine the person behind the obscenity. Though, after asked by the city to rule out individuals, Neumeister said the evidence suggested the speaker said the word very close to their microphone and most likely wore a headset.
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Given this evidence, Neumesier ruled out six men on the call due to factors including pitch, dialect, distance from the microphone and background noise. Individuals who were close to the microphone or wore a headset included Skidmore, facilitator Joe Schraven, Ald. Keith Furman, District 19, and Ald. Michael Tierney, District 16, according to video screenshots from the report.
But, the Haas’ memo indicated that the video clippings did not show those individuals at the moment the word was spoken. The four men identified in Neumesier’s report as possible speakers denied using the slur.
Furman released a statement following the report, noting he was “incredibly disappointed” the report did not offer more conclusive data in addition to citing a “pattern of highly unprofessional behavior” from Skidmore following the incident.
“I can say unequivocally that I did not utter a slur that night, do not use the word that was said and would never disrespect a member of the public,” Furman said in the statement.
The public reaction throughout the investigation and outcome has been split. Several alders and Rhodes-Conway condemned the speech and endorsed the investigation.
Conversely, morning anchor for WISC-TV Leah Linscheid and several others on Twitter questioned the cost of the council’s efforts for this investigation.
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“Does anyone else have questions about Madison’s City Council spending $10k on an IT analysis to see if a council member used a sexist slur during a meeting?” Linscheid tweeted Oct. 7. “When we’re in a pandemic/businesses are struggling/department budgets are so tight? I get it’s a drop in the bucket, but…”
Despite varying points of criticism and support from Madison residents regarding the effort and money put into this investigation, Haas said the city council now has the final say on the next steps, according to the Capital Times.