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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