The chief of the Milwaukee Police Department has apologized to Sterling Brown for the “inappropriate” actions of city police officers who used a Taser to subdue the Milwaukee Bucks guard during an arrest over a parking violation in January. After reviewing video of the incident, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett did, too, saying he was “offended by what [he] saw on the video” and that he was “very sorry the Milwaukee police treated [Brown] in the fashion he was treated.”
Evidently, the city’s attorney disagrees with their assessment of how things went down between Brown and the Milwaukee police officers who detained him in a Walgreens parking lot in the early hours of Jan. 26.
Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley — the lawyer representing the city in a federal lawsuit filed by Brown in June that argues that members of the department violated his civil rights by using a Taser on him in the course of a wrongful arrest — “asserted that the officers who arrested Brown did nothing wrong” and claimed Brown “deserved some of the blame for what happened” in a written response to Brown’s suit filed late Friday night, according to Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“The injuries and damages sustained by the plaintiff, if any, were caused in whole or in part by their own acts or omissions,” according to the city’s written response to a civil rights lawsuit filed by Brown. […]
[…] in the legal document, the city said officers did not use excessive force, did not wrongly arrest Brown and did not violate his civil rights.
The city’s response to the lawsuit asserts that the officers’ actions had nothing to do with the fact that Brown is African-American.
The document also denies the allegation by Brown that “Wisconsin is a particularly hostile location for African-Americans, specifically with regards to their interactions with police and police violence.”
Why was Sterling Brown arrested?
Milwaukee police initially reported that, while “conducting a business check” at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 26, they encountered a vehicle parked across two disability parking spaces” in the Walgreens’ parking lot, and that while speaking with and giving a citation to a “22-year-old male,” later identified as Brown, he became combative.
“During the incident an electronic control device was deployed and the man was arrested,” Milwaukee Police Sgt. Tim Gauerke told Yahoo Sports in a statement. “The circumstances of the incident and the use of force are currently being reviewed by the Department.”
That review, which included the viewing of police body camera footage of the incident, revealed that Brown’s actions did not warrant a criminal charge for resisting arrest or obstructing an officer. That footage made its way to the desk of Mayor Barrett, who said in May — four months after officers Tased Brown — that he “definitely [had] concerns” about the behavior of the officers involved based on what he saw.
Footage shows police officers acted inappropriately
One day later, the department released the footage. It shows an officer initiating a verbal confrontation with Brown, at least five other backup vehicles arriving to handle a traffic citation, and officers surrounding Brown because he didn’t take his hands out of his pockets immediately as ordered, taking him to the ground and eventually Tasing him.
WISN-TV in Wisconsin later uncovered more footage from Brown’s arrest. One portion showed an officer stepping on his ankle while he was pinned face down on the ground and handcuffed, and other officers expressing concern about Brown’s treatment only after realizing that he plays for the Bucks, meaning there would likely be a “media firestorm” from which they’d need to protect themselves. Additional footage showed one of the officers surrounding Brown before his Tasing briefly drawing his gun. None of the video footage released to date offers an indication that Brown acted aggressively or inappropriately toward the officers who apprehended him.
“Sterling Brown could be dead,” his lawyer, Mark Thomsen, told WISN. “That gun could have gone off, and it would be a whole different story.”
Video of Brown’s arrest sparks controversy
Chief Morales apologized to Brown for the incident, saying the officers who “acted inappropriately […] were recently disciplined.” Three officers — Joseph Grams, the first officer on the scene, and sergeants Jeffrey Krueger and Sean A. Mahnke — received suspensions ranging from two days to just over two weeks. Eight others were ordered to “undergoing remedial training in professional communications.” Following the release of the multiple videos of Brown’s detention, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission has ordered a complete audit and review of the arrest, what precipitated it and its aftermath.
The Milwaukee Police Association, the union representing rank-and-file officers, decried an alleged lack of support from civic leaders, shifting blame for what happened to Brown away from the officers involved and toward “drastic understaffing.” The city of Milwaukee has paid “roughly $22 million in police misconduct lawsuits since 2015,” according to the Journal Sentinel, with taxpayers footing the bill.
‘What is wrong with these people, man?’
According to Brown’s lawsuit, things escalated when, after Grams returned to Brown’s car, the alarm went off, leading Brown to reach into his pocket to grab his keys to turn it off. After that, the officers surrounded Brown, looked into his car, and saw what appeared to be paper targets with bullet holes in them inside the car. That led them to ask whether Brown had a concealed-carry weapon permit; after he said he didn’t, they shouted for him to take his hands out of his pockets and, mere seconds later, grabbed him and began to take him down to the ground.
There, with a knee in his groin, pressure on his neck and six officers having him pinned on the ground, Brown heard Mahnke call out an order to Tase him; shortly thereafter, Officer Bojan Samardzic sent “thousands of volts of electricity” through Brown’s body.
Brown also claims in the suit that Grams “used his right foot to stomp on Mr. Brown’s leg,” and “proceeded to stomp on Mr. Brown’s leg with both feet” after Samardzic shot the Taser; that Grams “stood on Mr. Brown’s leg for an extended period of time” while he laid face-down on the ground; that Grams explained the decision to use excessive force by blaming Brown for being “a dick” and making him think, “OK, he’s being an ass, he’s trying to hide something”; and that, with Brown laid out on the pavement, Grams “said to himself, “What is wrong with these people, man?”
“Everybody thought I was combative, thought I was being aggressive, but I get mad every time I watch it, because I was defenseless pretty much,” Brown told Robin Roberts during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I couldn’t do nothing, and they still did what they did.”
Milwaukee’s mayor uncomfortable with city attorney’s ‘rhetoric’
To some degree, Langley’s filing just represents an attorney playing his part in a legal system that can get messy; he’s responsible for representing the city in a federal case in which Brown’s seeking damages, and presenting a counterargument and line of defense in hopes of limiting the financial fallout from the proceedings is part of his job. Even so, though, claiming the officers involved did nothing wrong — after multiple other city officials have publicly apologized for the wrongoing — and blaming the victim for how the situation transpired seems a galling and tone-deaf form of advocacy, and one that caught Barrett, Milwaukee’s mayor, by surprise. From the Journal Sentinel:
“It is my hope that this can be resolved in a constructive way for Mr. Brown and for the community. I think it’s counterproductive for anybody to turn up the heat with rhetoric like this,” Barrett said. “I’m trying to bring respect throughout the entire community, and I’m going to continue to do that.” […]
“It’s in everybody’s best interest to try to resolve this without this being a battle between lawyers,” Barrett said.
Langley’s late-night filing probably made it quite a bit less likely that Brown — committed as he is to using his own case as a way to demand accountability in cases of police misconduct — will be willing to quickly agree to that preferred resolution.
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