By Gretchen Schuldt
While Milwaukee city politicians last week asked Gov. Evers for help in addressing reckless driving, the city's own Police Department is writing far fewer traffic tickets than it did last year, Municipal Court figures indicate.
The number of traffic cases filed in the court fell by 46%, or 26,462 cases, this year through September, a reflection of decreased enforcement.
While not every traffic ticket becomes a Municipal Court case – some may be dismissed before they get to court, for example – court filings are a good proxy for police activity.
There were 30,940 traffic cases during the first nine months of the year compared to 57,402 through September of last year, according to Municipal Court statistics. This year’s numbers also trail the 31,515 filed total through September 2017.
Ticket-writing jumped in 2018 amid public outrage about reckless driving. The anger has not abated, but the ticket writing has.
These state reps led the effort to cripple the presumption of innocence in Wisconsin
For a larger version of the graphic, click on the picture. For a PDF version, click here. The Senate sponsors are here.
By Gretchen Schuldt
These Wisconsin state representatives – 37 Republicans and four Democrats – teamed up to sponsor an amendment to the State Constitution that would seriously damage the concept of "presumed innocent."
The amendment will be before voters on April 7 and, if approved, will become part of the State Constitution. The referendum question the State Legislature OK'd and voters will get on their ballots actually says nothing about the contents of the proposed amendment or what its impacts would be.
You can learn about those things, though, by checking out WJI's "Marsy's Flaws" page. There are also links to stories about the problems arising in states that approved their own Marsy's Laws and must reckon with the consequences.
Marsy's Law is the brain child of billionaire felon Henry Nicholas III, who earlier this month bought his way out of any real consequences for allegedly trafficking heroin, cocaine, meth and ecstasy.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Jacob Maclin lost his effort to show there is racial bias in federal prosecutors' decisions about who gets charged with certain drug and gun cases in federal court, where penalties are heavier than in state court.
The numbers are clear – African Americans in Milwaukee face the harsher federal criminal penalty at a greater rate than do Whites in Milwaukee and elsewhere in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Federal prosecutors work with gun prosecutors in the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office to decide which cases should go federal, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The feds may never even find out about cases in other counties that could be prosecuted federally.
Maclin's lawyer, Joshua D. Uller argued the feds' practices resulted in racial bias and demonstrated selective prosecution; the U.S. Attorney's Office said it was concentrating resources in Milwaukee because of higher crime there.
U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper sided with the feds. Uller simply did not present evidence that federal authorities were racially motivated by their charging decisions, she said.
Ultimately, then, armed drug dealers in Milwaukee may face harsher penalties because of where they live or were arrested. It's not about race; it's about location.
But criminal complaints filed in state court and cited by Uller show there are great discrepancies in how cannabis/gun cases get treated, even in Milwaukee County.
Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission rejects WJI complaint over police officer's comments
The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission will not investigate the Wisconsin Justice Initiative's complaint about derogatory comments a police officer made because the complaint came from a third party and not someone directly affected.
The officer's comments, made during a Federal Court deposition, targeted North Side and central city drivers. A transcript of the officer's deposition is on file in Federal Court and is a public record.
The commission's decision "is ridiculous and surprising," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said.
WJI filed the complaint in August, after reading the transcript of a deposition of Milwaukee Police Officer – now Detective – Froilan Santiago. The transcript is part of the public Federal Court record.
Santiago testified he would invite traffic stop subjects into his squad car if the stop was in a Downtown police district, but not if it was in a central city or North Side district.
"District 7, if you stop that person, that person is going to run. He might have drugs or guns, based on where I've worked at. District 7 or District 5," he said.
The populations of Police Districts 5 and 7 include the largest percentages of African Americans among all the districts in the city, according to a U.S. Justice Department draft report on the Police Department.
In District 1 Downtown, "it's more of people as far as the -- more able to communicate and more different lifestyle," he said.
He added: "District 1, you have a high percentage of people who's in college, who's in business, work, and stuff like that, and you deal with them differently as far as – and their behavior at that moment in time."
Fire and Police Commission guidelines generally require a complainant to have a "reasonably direct relationship" to an incident for a complaint to be considered.
"Complainants are considered to have a direct relationship if they were directly affected by the alleged misconduct, witnessed the alleged misconduct, or have special, professional, or organizational knowledge about the alleged misconduct, e.g., a lawyer, a judge, or an FPC employee," according to the guidelines.
The guidelines also state that "The purpose for requiring a reasonably direct relationship is to help the FPC respond effectively to complaints from persons who have the greatest interest in the outcome and who have the most reliable information about an incident. It is not intended to screen out otherwise reliable complaints that deserve investigation."
A commission employee informed WJI last week that its complaint did not meet the guidelines' criteria.
"This gives a huge get-out-of-jail-free card for officer misconduct," Schuldt said. "It kills the idea of the third-party whistleblower complaints when it comes to the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission. It's a bad day for Milwaukee."
Many, many thanks to everyone who turned out for Oct. 3 event with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Messenger.
And a special thanks to our sponsors.
A few good-time memories. Photos by Eleanor Burns.
Appeals panel orders new sentencing after DA gets autopsy results wrong and judge discounts error
By Gretchen Schuldt
A Milwaukee County circuit judge who repeatedly cited erroneous information about the cause of an infant's death when she sentenced the girl's father for his role in that death erred when she denied him a new sentencing hearing after the error was discovered, a State Court of Appeals panel ruled this week.
The District 1 Court of Appeals panel ordered a new sentencing hearing for Vaylan Morris, whom Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz had sentenced to four years in prison and five years extended supervision after he pleaded guilty to second-degree recklessly endangering safety.
During the sentencing hearing, Assistant District Attorney Matthew James Torbenson told Protasiewicz that synthetic marijuana might be to blame for the girl's death, but Dr. Brian Linert of the Medical Examiner’s Office actually concluded that it was not the cause.
While there was synthetic marijuana in the girl's stomach contents, the drug had not circulated through her blood or nervous system and did not kill her, he said.
When the state admitted the error during a postconviction hearing, Protasiewicz found that Torbenson merely "misquoted" Linert's findings.
The error did not necessarily mean the prosecutor's statement was wrong, she said, because "different medical examiners can disagree about the cause of death."
No alternative medical examiner findings were actually offered.
Help WJI advocate for justice in Wisconsin