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Union files lawsuit


After the first batch was released, the Milwaukee Police Association sued the city. The union did not dispute that the records were public, but contended it was against the law to release them without first notifying the officers and giving them a chance to challenge the release.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Timothy G. Dugan ruled in the union’s favor in April 2010. The department charged the Journal Sentinel $3,916.79 to notify the officers via certified mail. After the newspaper paid, the department sent the letters and began releasing the records.

The newspaper then built a spreadsheet of officers disciplined for violating state laws or local ordinances or both. Ordinance violations, which are considered less serious than state crimes, include offenses such as retail theft and first-offense drunken driving.

The spreadsheet includes 93 officers.

But there is no way to know how many officers — like Ray — broke the law but were disciplined under some other department rule. For example, some officers accused of sexual assault were disciplined for “idling and loafing,” the same count used to punish officers for sleeping on the job.

The hard cards also do not include information about crimes officers committed before they were hired. The newspaper may not be aware of officers who broke the law between the time their hard cards were released and publication.

The cards do not indicate which law or ordinance each officer was disciplined for violating.

To get that information, the newspaper requested summaries of internal investigations conducted by the department’s Professional Performance Division. Those records include details of the allegations, summaries of witness and officer interviews and investigators’ conclusions.

One officer whose hard card lists discipline for violating laws or ordinances is not included in the list of 93 because the department could not locate the corresponding summary, leaving the newspaper unable to verify the details.

The department released the rest of the summaries to the newspaper in batches of between 10 and 20 per month over 11 months at a cost of more than $1,600.

All told, the Journal Sentinel paid more than $7,500 for access to public police records, which the department took 19 months to provide.

Oct. 23, 2011

Series built on police disciplinary records

By GINA BARTON


To report this series, the Journal Sentinel requested the disciplinary record of every Milwaukee police officer and supervisor — about 1,900 of them — under the state open records law. The Police Department released them over a year’s time, beginning in January 2010.

The newspaper built a database of sworn personnel who have been disciplined by the Police Department for violating state laws or local ordinances. There were 93.

The database includes only those who broke the law after their hire dates, which range from 1979 to 2010. It may not include incidents or discipline that occurred after the hard cards were released. It does not include officers hired after 2010. Officers who left the force after Oct. 1 may not have been removed from the database.

Again using the open records law, the newspaper requested summaries of the internal investigations from the Police Department. The Journal Sentinel paid more than $7,500, not including internal legal costs, for access to the police records, which the department took 19 months to provide.

One officer whose hard card lists discipline for violating laws or ordinances is not included in the list of 93 because the department could not locate the corresponding summary, leaving the newspaper unable to verify the details of the incident.

When criminal charges were issued, the newspaper reviewed the court files.

When charges were not issued, the newspaper used the open records law to obtain copies of “no process” letters and deferred-prosecution agreements from the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office and from prosecutors in other jurisdictions.

Some of the 93 officers were named in family and civil court files, which the newspaper also reviewed.

In all, the newspaper examined more than 8,000 pages of police and court records.

The newspaper also made numerous requests for interviews with Milwaukee police Chief Edward Flynn, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. All three refused to talk with a reporter. Barrett issued a one-paragraph statement. Flynn issued a one-sentence statement. Chisholm’s office provided a written statement of about 1½ pages.

The newspaper also sent a certified letter with a return receipt to every officer named in the stories. The letters indicated the focus of the series, listed the specific events involving the officer that would be reported and requested interviews. In a few cases, the post office could not confirm delivery. Those letters were re-sent to the officers’ Police Department email accounts.

Just two officers, Joseph Zawikowski and Jill Glidewell, agreed to speak with a reporter. Herb Glidewell responded via his attorney. Charles Cross sent an email declining comment. The others did not respond.

Due to state laws that allow some records to be kept secret, the newspaper could not determine how many officers broke the law before they were hired. For example, although the roster of Police Department employees is public, the department may withhold officers’ birth dates. This makes it impossible to accurately compare the roster with a court database of criminal cases.

People who want to become police officers must list criminal convictions on their job applications, but those documents are not public records.

The public also does not have access to juvenile court records.

Oct. 23, 2011

These interactive elements both can be found at www.jsonline.com/watchdog/131554703.html







Oct. 26, 2011 – Second of three parts

Milwaukee police often face minimal punishment for driving drunk

By GINA BARTON

Milwaukee police Officer Andrew Wagner was driving drunk when he struck Luisa Villa on the freeway.

Villa was standing beside a disabled car, trying to help the driver, when Wagner’s pickup truck plowed into her, according to the accident report. She was pinned between the two vehicles as they collided, then thrown into the median. She landed on the ground, unconscious.

At least one witness thought she was dead.

But Villa, then 20, survived. She left the hospital with a walker and stitches across her face.

“I made it to the couch and didn’t move for six weeks,” she said.

That’s longer than Wagner was off the job, according to his personnel record. He was suspended from the Police Department for 10 days.

Wagner, who was off-duty when the crash occurred, is not an anomaly. At least 35 members of Milwaukee’s police force have been disciplined by the department after being arrested for driving drunk off-duty since they were hired, a two-year Journal Sentinel investigation found.

They are among 93 officers who have been sanctioned after the department concluded they violated state laws or local ordinances ranging from shoplifting to sexual assault, according to the newspaper’s review, the first of its kind involving the Milwaukee police.

Wisconsin is the only state in which first-offense drunken driving is usually a traffic violation rather than a crime. Numerous attempts to change that in the Legislature have never gotten off the ground in a state where so many people drink socially and the Tavern League is a political force.

Even so, one drunken-driving conviction is enough to get someone fired from Milwaukee’s largest cab company. A second offense, which rises to the level of a misdemeanor, results in a lifetime ban from the commercial driver’s license needed to work as a truck driver.

But Milwaukee cops caught drunk behind the wheel continue to be responsible for stopping drunken drivers and enforcing other laws, even if they’ve been convicted more than once.

That’s not the case in many departments around the country. And it tells the community the police don’t take drunken driving seriously, advocates say.

“It puts people’s lives and livelihoods at risk,” said John Vose, state spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “When someone in law enforcement drives drunk, that just makes it all the more difficult for us to send the message that drinking and driving is wrong.”

Wagner is one of 10 officers whose intoxicated driving has crossed the line into potentially criminal conduct by injuring someone in a crash, having a gun in the car, having a child as a passenger or getting busted more than once, the newspaper found. Just four of them were convicted of crimes.

Wagner, whose blood-alcohol level was more than double the legal limit, initially was charged with two misdemeanors in connection with the 2004 crash that injured Villa. As part of a plea agreement, the criminal charges were dismissed. Instead, Wagner, then 25, was ticketed for first-offense drunken driving — the same outcome he would have faced if he had simply been pulled over rather than causing a crash with injuries. He was fined $300, according to court records.

Villa can understand that Wagner was driving drunk in the first place. He was young, she said, and in Wisconsin, driving drunk is practically a rite of passage.

But the fact that Wagner didn’t go to jail bothers Villa. She suspects he got a break because of his job with the Police Department.

“I know they tend to take care of their own,” she said.

Wagner did not respond to a request for comment.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm declined to discuss Wagner’s case or the reasons behind the plea deal. In a written statement, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern pointed out that Wagner paid more than $22,000 in restitution.

Court records show Wagner’s insurance company actually made the payment to Villa.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn also refused to be interviewed by the Journal Sentinel. But in a video presentation to officers, the audio portion of which was obtained by the newspaper, he said drunken driving is “as much a threat to officer safety as any other issue.”

“Anybody who is a police officer who drives drunk puts their life in danger and the life of the public in danger,” he said during the speech.

The video was shown to officers about a month after a Journal Sentinel reporter shared the newspaper’s findings with a police spokeswoman and asked for an interview with the chief. In the video, Flynn said he was surprised by how often Milwaukee police drive drunk and acknowledged the department had not been dealing with the problem effectively.

“This is an issue of concern everywhere, but when you couple that issue with what is frankly acknowledged — too often humorously — with a culture of drinking in Wisconsin, you have a recipe for serious problems,” he said.

Despite the prevalence of alcohol-related problems within the department, very few people have been referred to the employee assistance program, which provides counseling, Flynn said.

“We refer about one-fifth the numbers that the Fire Department refers,” he said.

An employee committee was working to develop a new program that includes education, support and discipline for officers with alcohol-related problems, he said. Training began earlier this month.

That’s a step in the right direction, said Nina Emerson, director of the Resource Center on Impaired Driving at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Early intervention can reduce both drunken driving and domestic violence, which is often fueled by drinking, she said. And it can help change a culture that doesn’t take impaired driving seriously.

“It’s such a huge problem in this state,” she said. “We should all know better.”

That goes double for law enforcement, said Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.

It’s a clear conflict for someone who has driven drunk to pull over other drivers for the same offense, according to Clarke, who said he is getting backlash from the union because he won’t allow a twice-convicted deputy to go out on patrol.

“If I’m going to hold the public’s feet to the fire in terms of drunken driving, how can I not hold my officers’ feet to the fire?” he asked. “It’s dangerous behavior.”

It’s even worse if an officer has racked up multiple offenses or lied about it, he said.





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