By Gretchen Schuldt
Milwaukee police officials during budget hearings attributed the decline in city traffic citations this year to the city's settlement in the ACLU's stop-and-frisk lawsuit.
Dangerous driving has become a major issue in Milwaukee, outraging many residents.
While attributing the decline in citations to the ACLU, however, police failed to note that the number of tickets issued in the city has been declining for years except for significant jumps in 2017 and 2018 – the year the ACLU's lawsuit was filed and the year it was settled.
"It's part of the ACLU lawsuit," Police Chief Alfonso Morales told the Common Council's Finance and Personnel Committee, referring to the decline in speeding tickets.
"We’re not doing the flooded over-policing area where we’re measured on our activity on traffic and subject stops that resulted in citations," he said.
The ACLU of Wisconsin, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Covington & Burling law firm, brought a class action lawsuit on behalf of African-American and Latinx residents who challenged the constitutionality of MPD's traffic and pedestrian stops and alleged they were racially biased. The city denied wrongdoing, but agreed to several reforms to settle the suit.
Morales, at the committee meeting, acknowledged that police previously stopped and cited people for reasons other than the violations they committed.
Police now are "actually pulling the person over that actually is speeding or doing something reckless.... So those are the people that are getting the tickets – We’re not just – again, that whole Center Street corridor, where we’re stopping a minivan because, a Dodge Carava(n) – a mini-van because it’s high steal, and we’re stopping every Dodge Caravan and giving them a ticket....Those are all things that came across in the agreement with the ACLU lawsuit."
Molly Collins, advocacy director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said Wednesday that "there's nothing in the settlement that stops police from enforcing the law."
The lawsuit, she said, was "not about them enforcing the law, but about them breaking the law."
Annual number of traffic cases filed in Municipal Court
The Sterling Brown case: There may have been dead people in that Walgreens, cop says a year-plus later
By Gretchen Schuldt
Parts of depositions of police officers involved in the detention, takedown, tasing, and arrest of Milwaukee Buck s player Sterling Brown in January 2018 have been filed in Federal Court.
Brown was confronted by several officers after he parked illegally in a handicapped parking space at a Walgreens parking lot about 2 a.m. Jan. 26.
Brown has filed a lawsuit alleging the officers violated his constitutional rights. His attorney, Mark Thomsen, filed several deposition excerpts.
The City of Milwaukee and other defendants have denied violating Brown's rights.
WJI is publishing portions of the depositions. This first selection is from the deposition of Officer Joseph J. Grams, who first stopped Brown as Brown returned to his car from the store. Brown's date was in the car at the time.
Grams, in his May 2019 deposition, said his contact with Brown was effective because Brown did not get past him.
Grams: That was the intent; not to get -- not to let him get past me because he could have been a fleeing felon.
Thomsen: What do you mean he could have been "a fleeing felon"?
Thomsen: Tell me.
Grams: Well, my thought was that when he was coming out, was that, hey, we have a situation; could be an armed robbery. The car is, as we described before, positioned for a quick exit. It's the only car in the whole lot; positioned for a quick exit out of the parking lot; so a perfect armed robbery car. The car was running. There was a lookout in the car, and it's positioned to flee directly out the parking lot. So at that time until we investigated further, I couldn't let him pass into his car because there could have been dead people in the Walgreens until we verified that; so it worked. Stalled him until other squads could get there.
Context: Gram's lawsuit alleges that "Approximately ten seconds after first approaching Mr. Brown, and before Mr. Brown had any reasonable opportunity to respond to Defendant Grams’ demands, Defendant Grams unlawfully shoved Mr. Brown" and "less than thirty seconds after Defendant Grams first approached Mr. Brown, Defendant Grams phoned dispatch and requested backup. While Defendant Grams called in his request for backup, Mr. Brown waited quietly. After contacting dispatch, Defendant Grams returned to Mr. Brown again, telling him to 'back up!' in a loud voice. Mr. Brown asked Defendant Grams, 'for what?' Defendant Grams deceptively accused Mr. Brown of obstructing, and then told Mr. Brown 'I’ll do what I want, alright? I own this right here.' Mr. Brown replied, 'You don’t own me, though.' "
Later, while Brown was on the ground, "Grams used his right foot to stomp on Mr. Brown’s leg. Then after the Taser was shot into Mr. Brown’s back, Defendant Grams proceeded to stomp on Mr. Brown’s leg with both feet."
After Brown was tackled, tased, and cuffed, the complaint says, "Grams commented to Defendant Krueger, '[i]f the guy hadn’t been such a dick it would have been ‘hey, have a nice day!’ you know? But then I thought, okay he’s being an ass, he’s trying to hide something.'”
Thomsen: When did you first tell any human being that you said it could have been dead people in the Walgreens?
Grams: What's that?
Thomsen: When is the first time you told anybody that there could have been dead people in the Walgreens?
Grams: I think just now.· I don't remember – at the scene, you mean?· I don't think there was anybody I told that to.· I don't recall that anyway.
(After the incident, officers involved in it were directed to take remedial training, where they reviewed body camera footage and discussed flaws in the way they handled the situation.)
Thomsen: Let's be very clear.· At the remedial training, what did they tell you about your pushing Mr. Brown? ...
Grams: Okay. Yeah, it should have been more forceful because in that training – I mean, I tried to keep it from escalating; so I just pushed him with my fingers. That training shows that you strike the person straight up in the chest very forcefully to actually move them back. I didn't do that. I wanted to do try and keep it as low-key as possible; so that's what I should have done, and I didn't do it. I didn't strike him like that, which I should have by the book.
Thomsen: Who told you that at the remedial training, that you should have shoved him?
Grams: Well, I don't know if anybody -- I don't know if anybody told me that, but that's what the DAT book says.
Thomsen: My question, sir, was, what did they tell you at the remedial training about your contact with Mr. Brown?
Grams: I'm not sure if they addressed that or how they addressed it.
Thomsen: Lieutenant Stein writes, in quotes, Police Officer Grams displayed resistive and dismissive behavior throughout the remedial regarding the ProComm concepts Police Officer Anderson laid out. What were you dismissing about what Officer Anderson pointed out?
Grams: I don't think I was dismissive about it. I just didn't agree with him.
Thomsen: What didn't you agree with?
Grams: That – he was saying I should have stepped back and let him get in the car, and I didn't agree with that; so that's his opinion.
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.
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."
By Gretchen Schuldt
A Milwaukee police officer testified he would invite traffic stop subjects into his squad car if the stop was in the Downtown police district, but not if it was in a central city or North Side district.
Officer Froilan Santiago made the statements during a 2017 deposition taken during a Federal Court lawsuit alleging that Santiago used excessive force during a traffic stop. The suit is pending.
"So then getting back to my question," attorney Nathaniel Cade, Jr. asked Santiago, "how many times since 2006 have you initiated a stop of someone and suggested that they get out of the vehicle and get into the front seat and look at the computer?"
"Now, like I said, District 7, I wouldn't do," Santiago said. District 7 headquarters is at 3626 W. Fond du Lac Ave. on the city's North Side.
"Depends on the situation and environment," he continued. "District 1 is a different type of environment where it's more of people as far as the -- more able to communicate and more different lifestyle of the individual based on our training in District 1 -- or based on what -- my experience at District 1, it's a lot more common than if I was at District 7. "
District 1, Downtown, is headquartered at 749 W. State St.
He continued: "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."
District 5 is based at 2920 Vel R. Phillips Ave.
"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. I don't know," Santiago said. "Like I said, it's just discretion of the individual of what's going on."
"So you're profiling the driver of the vehicle based on the district that you're in because it's more likely that if they're in a poor neighborhood, that it's drugs and guns?" Cade asked.
"You asked me how I'm going to perform my traffic stop," Santiago responded.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Jimmy Harris, alleges that Santiago in November 2010 stopped the car Harris was driving and asked him to get out of the vehicle. Santiago said he stopped the car because it was black and the color listed on DMV records as gray. It was about 4:45 p.m. and dark at the time of the stop.
The same mistake about the car's color had been made previously, according to the suit, and Harris offered to show Santiago on the squad computer how the error was made. Santiago accepted, but then "suddenly grabbed Mr. Harris' left arm that had recently been operated on and used it to maneuver Mr. Harris..."
This 29-minute video shows parts of Harris' encounter with police.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The City of Milwaukee, just five months into the year, already is in borrowing mode to pay off court settlements related to police conduct, a financing strategy that increases costs for taxpayers and leaves them with nothing to show for their money.
The city will borrow $2 million to pay the family of a man who died in the back of a squad car, and will borrow another $2.3 million to pay the family of a man who died in jail of an epileptic seizure about 18 hours after telling police he did not have his regular dose of anti-seizure medicine, according to city documents and Budget and Management Director Dennis Yaccarino.
Interest alone could add a million dollars or more to the total price tag over the life of the bonds, depending on their longevity and interest rates.
Ideally, state and local governments use bonds to pay for large capital projects that are expected to last a long time, like roads, bridges, and schools. Borrowing for these types of projects allows governments to spread the costs over decades to ensure that future beneficiaries of the projects share in the costs.
Borrowing for police-related settlements, however, is on the increase not only in Milwaukee, but across the country.
Here, Yaccarino said, "It is a challenge to continue to budget core city services with no growth in revenues and have no ability to set up a funding mechanism for court settlements that eliminates borrowing without impacting those core services."
The city traditionally has relied on a $5 million contingent fund to pay settlements that exceeded the amount budgeted for them, he said.
This year, though, Yaccarino said, snow and ice removal costs are running $4.3 million over budget, melting away much of the contingent fund.
The city's uncomfortable position is not unique to 2019. Budget figures show it is now common for the city to pay out more in damages and claims than the total $5 million budgeted in the contingent fund.
Last year, the city borrowed $6.2 million to cover damages and claims like the police-related lawsuits it needs to borrow for now, according to city bonding documents.
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