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.
The indictment filed by Milwaukee Ald. Willie Wade, charged in federal court with three counts of wire fraud, is below.
It concerns an alleged fake bribery scheme cooked up by Wade.
That alleged fake scheme, had it been real and had Wade routed the money through some sort of political action committee or campaign fund, might be called "lobbying."
Victoriano Heredia was 17 years old in 1997 when he participated in a restaurant robbery that turned into a homicide.
The victim's name was Charles B. Counsell. He was popular and active in Marshall. He was mourned deeply by many.
Heredia was not the leader in planning or carrying out the crime, and he did not kill Counsell himself. He was there, though, he participated in the robbery, and he helped with an unsuccessful effort to move Counsell's body up a flight of stairs.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, party to a crime and in January 1998 was sentenced by Dane County Circuit Judge Patrick J. Fiedler to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 13 years.
"I don't pretend to be omniscient, but based upon everything I know about you, I am satisfied today that I don't think you will ever commit another crime of this nature again. ... I don't think we should give up on you just yet," Fiedler said.
Heredia has been in prison now for 21 years. He is 39 years old, more than twice as old as he was when he was convicted.
He is a plaintiff in the ACLU's lawsuit challenging life sentences for juveniles. The plaintiffs are not denying their crimes. They are not contesting their convictions.
They are asking for a true shot at parole.
"Currently, Wisconsin prisons hold 127 men serving life sentences for homicides committed when they were under 18 years old." – From "Juvenile Lifers: Reforming Extreme Sentences." Wisconsin Lawyer magazine.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Getting a ticket instead of being charged with a crime might seem like a lucky break, but that ticket can get you added to a criminal database and ultimately hurt future job and housing opportunities, according to Kori Ashley, staff attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
If that ticket is accompanied by arrest and fingerprinting the information can go – and sometimes must go – to the State Department of Justice and become part of a Crime Information Bureau criminal background report provided to anyone who asks for it and pays $7, Ashley said.
"I would say to never ignore the ticket," said Ashley, who represents indigent defendants in Milwaukee Municipal Court. "I would treat this ticket just like I would treat a criminal summons I received in the mail because ultimately, if you have been fingerprinted, it will show up on your background report, just like a criminal arrest and charge."
Five inmates sentenced to life in prison as juveniles filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that they do not have meaningful chances at parole.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a story.
We have the lawsuit.
You can download your own 8.5- by 11-inch copy of this illustration here.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The vehicle of a driver arrested for drunk driving can be searched for other drugs even when an officer has no reason to believe the driver is under their influence or has any in his or her possession, the State Court of Appeals ruled last week.
That is because the offense of operating while intoxicated (OWI) includes driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, the District II Court of Appeals panel said.
"It is not unusual for a driver’s impaired condition to be caused by a potpourri of substances—some legal, some illegal, some easily detected, some not—sometimes including alcohol, sometimes not," Appeals Judge Mark D. Gundrum wrote. "All such substances are relevant to proving that the driver is in violation of ...(state statute) due to driving while impaired by either drugs, alcohol, or both."
Gundrum was joined in his opinion by Appeals Judges Paul F. Reilly and Brian K. Hagedorn.
The ruling stems from the case of Mose Coffee, who was convicted in Winnebago County Circuit Court of second offense OWI and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. The officer who stopped Coffee said that he smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and glazed and bloodshot eyes.
Coffee was arrested and officers searched his vehicle. One officer found a bag containing two jars of marijuana, several cell phones, and a package with numerous small plastic bags. Officers found more marijuana in the trunk.
Coffee sought to have the drug evidence suppressed, arguing it was not reasonable for officers to believe they would find OWI-related evidence in the bottom of the bag.
In upholding Circuit Judge John A. Jorgensen's rejection of the request, the appeals court also rejected its own precedent. In the past, Gundrum wrote, the court found that a search was justified if there was a reasonable belief that evidence of OWI would be found during a search. The U.S. Supreme Court has held, though, that a vehicle search is permissible when it is reasonable to believe that evidence might be found in the vehicle.
Previously, Gundrum wrote, "We ultimately relied upon the wrong standard, as Coffee does in this appeal."
He concluded: "We hold as a matter of law that when an officer lawfully arrests a driver for OWI, even if alcohol is the only substance detected in relation to the driver, a search of the interior of the vehicle, including any containers therein, is lawful because it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the offense of OWI might be found."
Last look at the election: Neubauer outpolls Dallet in Milwaukee County, voting is up and turnout is down
(Updated April 24, 2019 to include information about 2018 city voter roll issues.)
Losing State Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer won more votes in Milwaukee and Milwaukee County this month than Rebecca Dallet won a year ago in her successful campaign for a seat on that same court, voting results show.
While Dallet received fewer votes than Neubauer did, she won a greater share – 66 percent – of the ballots cast than did Neubauer, who grabbed 62 percent of the county vote.
If that seems counter-intuitive, there's more: The number of participating voters was up this year over last year in both the city and county, but the turnout rates were down, a function of a sharp increase in the number of registered voters and a modest increase in the number of voters who actually cast ballots.
(Two voter roll clean-ups, one by the city and one by the state, led to the number of registered voters dropping by 84,000 before the 2018 spring election, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state purge was plagued with errors that led to people incorrectly being dropped from the rolls, city officials said. A total of 44,000 voters were removed from the rolls through the state process.)
In Milwaukee County, the number of registered voters this year was up 86,108, or 19 percent, from spring 2018, while the number of ballots cast was up just 19,111, or 14 percent. The overall turnout rate for the spring general election fell from about 30 percent to 29 percent.
In the city of Milwaukee, the number of registered voters soared 25 percent, from 248,057 to 310,634, an increase of 62,577.
The number of votes cast rose 18 percent from last year to this year.
There were only 18 city wards where the number of votes cast declined, and 302 wards where voting increased.
While that is significant, a smaller share of registered voters cast ballots, and voter turnout fell from 24 percent to 22 percent.
It is time for Wisconsin to legalize marijuana and recognize that "cannabis prohibition is an outdated and regressive policy," Wisconsin Justice Initiative President Craig Johnson said Thursday.
"People used to describe marijuana as a 'gateway drug,' " he said. "And unfortunately it is – because of the unequal way in which marijuana laws are enforced, for black and brown people it’s a gateway into the criminal justice system, it’s a gateway to jail, and it’s a gateway to prison – and that’s wrong."
Johnson joined State Rep. Melissa Sargent as the Madison Democrat spoke at a press conference about her new bill to legalize cannabis. Information about the legislation is here.
"Far too many lives and communities have been damaged by out-of-date and backwards cannabis policies, and we must take this important and necessary step towards rectifying these damages," she said in prepared remarks. "The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal."
Johnson, also in prepared remarks, said that too many people of color are arrested and prosecuted for possessing small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
"Cars are searched, homes are searched, and arrests are made – at times for possession of mere grams of marijuana. This is a waste of precious law enforcement and court resources, it ruins lives, and it needs to end," he said.
Johnson cited WJI research showing that more than 80 percent of people charged in Milwaukee County with felony possession of marijuana felony second offense or greater are African-American. The county's population is about 27 percent African-American, he said.
In November, voters in 16 counties voted in advisory referendums in favor of legalizing medical or recreational cannabis or both. Polls also show a majority of Wisconsinites support legalization.
Said Sargent: "By legalizing recreational marijuana in Wisconsin we will open the door to countless family-sustaining jobs, have the means to regulate and tax marijuana to provide abundant economic stimulus for our state, and address the massive and egregious racial disparities in marijuana-related arrest rates."
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