MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission in a special session Monday, July 20 issued 11 directives for Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales -- with every member of the commission voting in favor of requiring the chief to comply with the directives or face disciplinary action including suspension, demotion or firing. The chief and his team said they will comply to the best of their ability to those directives they find legitimate and warranted.
Ushered inside the locked and guarded doors of the hearing room at City Hall, Chief Morales faced his toughest critics yet.
"Whereas the chief's response to the request from the Fire and Police Commission has been unduly delayed or outright ignored" said FPC Executive Director Griselda Aldrete.
Aldrete read off a laundry list of the board's complaints before issuing the chief's marching orders.
"A chief given a directive, and must implement directive unless overruled by mayor," said Aldrete.
Milwaukee Police Chief arrives for FPC special session
The directives require the chief to share video and written reports on open cases, including officer-involved shootings, sometimes within days, provide a public report on the recent use of tear gas on protesters and seek FPC approval on promotions and overtime. Noncompliance could mean termination.
"We're gonna have a statement, but it's being given my by attorney," said Chief Morales.
The chief did not answer questions Monday evening; his attorney calling the FPC action unprecedented, and a distraction from problems among the board.
"I think this is a very aggressive response by the FPC to a bunch of problems that are visiting their house, and they are distracting from the problems that exist within that commission," said Frank Gimbel, Chief Morales' attorney.
The chief's team said it's hard not to believe the case against Morales is political and personal, a claim Aldrete rejected.
"Absolutely not," said Aldrete. "This is part of our oversight capacity. I'm the executive director. My post is nearly ending, and I only hope our city is in good hands going forward."
The FPC deadline to comply with some of the directives is Aug. 4. The chief and his team said they've already complied with some of the directives. Aldrete would not comment on whether she had received them.
Ahead of the meeting, members of the Milwaukee Police Association voiced strong opposition to the scheduled special session -- with the only item on the agenda voting and issuing directives for the chief. The MPA on Monday said it's "uncalled for," and the president of the MPA called the FPC chairman corrupt. This, as an ethics probe was launched by the city against the chairman Monday with a unanimous vote by the Milwaukee Ethics Board.
Members of the MPA Monday said they suspected the FPC would try to fire Chief Morales. Dale Bormann, MPA president, said that's wrong and uncalled for -- supporting Chief Morales with community groups calling for his termination.
"They have to have cause," said Bormann before Monday's meeting. "They don't have cause, so I think whatever they decided tonight, if they decide to fire him, I think it's an illegal act done by the FPC."
Groups like Voces de la Frontera have called for the chief's firing. A letter points to the chief’s lack of action surrounding the death of Joel Acevedo — with one of his officers charged with homicide. The group says the city is not safe, while the chief’s supporters say he hasn’t received a fair shot at doing his job.
Amid the calls for justice for Joel Acevedo, protesters have fixed their attention on what they call inaction from Morales — choosing not to fire Officer Michael Mattioli, 32, a 13-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, facing a charge of first-degree reckless homicide in connection with Acevedo’s death. Prosecutors said Acevedo died following a fight inside Mattioli’s home on April 19, the morning after the off-duty officer hosted a get-together. A criminal complaint said Mattioli “held (Acevedo) on the ground” after Acevedo tried stealing from him and punched another man in the home. Acevedo, 25, died from his injuries on April 25. His death was ruled a homicide as a result of brain injury due to traumatic strangulation.
Chief Morales could have terminated Mattioli’s employment. Instead, the Fire and Police Commission took command of the internal investigation — referring disciplinary charges against Mattioli for code of conduct violations related to Acevedo’s death. The disciplinary trial referred by the FPC is the first step toward terminating his employment with the department.
Letters sent to the FPC are calling for Morales to be fired — asking how the city could feel safe when the man in charge of enforcing the law fails to enforce any basic or humane standard of accountability in his own ranks. Those calling for his firing also say Morales has lost the trust of the community by overreacting and using force against peaceful protesters.
Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke
"I know Morales personally," said former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Monday. "He is a fine man. For heaven sakes, they just gave him a new contract. Give him a chance to work the damn thing, but we're raw power politics right now. It's an ugly thing for the entire city of Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, the MPA Monday called for the removal of FPC Chairman Steven DeVougas after the Ethics Board voted unanimously to launch a committee to look into DeVougas’ alleged code of ethics violations. The FPC chairman was the subject of an internal investigation stemming from his representation of a local developer who was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time. The Milwaukee Police Association says DeVougas acted as the defense attorney for the man accused of sexual assault, which was investigated by Milwaukee police, hence the conflict, because the FPC oversees the department.
The developer was never charged with a crime, but the investigator found DeVougas’ behavior violated the city’s ethics code. The FPC noted DeVougas did not participate in an interview with the investigator. The city is now looking into the investigator’s findings.
Milwaukee Police Association President Dale Bormann
"He is corrupt, and he is deceiving," said Bormann. "The mayor doesn't trust him, and our police chief doesn't trust him."
Statement from Milwaukee Alderman Mark Borkowski in support of Chief Morales:
"I am absolutely dismayed with this seeming “runaway train” effort to remove Chief Morales.
"I recognize that there have been some mistakes, but the Chief Morales tenure has been very good as a whole. It is a very difficult job, one might say impossible, but the effort and expertise that Chief Morales has provided has helped guide our community through some very difficult times, including the sudden and tragic deaths of officers.
"We all have made errors, but will this possible removal of the Chief be in the best interests of our City? Where do we go from here?
"I sure hope I am wrong."
Statement from Voces de La Frontera, calling for the chief's firing:
"Voces de la Frontera stands with the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP, Justice Wisconsin and other organizations and families affected by police brutality to call on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) to fire Police Chief Alfonso Morales.
"There are two core reasons why Voces de la Frontera wants Morales replaced. First, he refuses time and time again to show any understanding of meaningful community engagement. Second, he has lost his credibility by repeatedly falsely claiming that actions are outside of his power when in reality he is just failing to do his job and failing to protect Milwaukee communities of color.
"Voces de la Frontera, as a primarily Latinx organization, had hoped that Chief Morales’s background and experience would mean he would use his leadership to engage the community on important civil rights issues impacting Latinx, immigrants, refugees and other communities of color.
"But that has not been the case.
"Voces has tried a number of times, without success, to engage with Morales and his representatives. We’ve pressed on such issues as police cooperation with federal immigration agencies and police violence against people of color. Other organizations report similar rebuffs from Morales.
"Morales initially denied the need for stronger due process protections in the standing operating procedures between the MPD and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), claiming there was no cause for concern.
"But the need for stronger policies was caught on video when a family called the Voces Emergency line in September 2019. The family, parked in their car, was being surrounded by ICE and Milwaukee police as they were getting ready to drop off the kids at school.
"Morales later resisted Voces’ successful effort to change official police procedures in order to ban police/ICE cooperation without a judge’s warrant.
"Morales resists accountability for Milwaukee police involved in violence against people color. He should have fired Officer Michael Mattioli. Mattioli is charged with reckless homicide but remains on the payroll while the process drags out through the FPC. Morales likewise refuses to release videotapes and 911 tapes of the incident, though they are public documents.
"Most recently, Morales has overseen police attacks on lawful protesters, at a historic moment for challenging institutionalized racism. We live in one of the most segregated cities in the country and we have a police force that has spent millions of dollars on lawsuits because there is a lack of accountability on issues of racial profiling, abuse, and police brutality.
"A police chief must engage with the community, promote civil and human rights, and be transparent and honest with the public. Chief Morales fails the test and therefore must step down."
Statement from Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Alderman Nik Kovac, Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, Alderman Russell W. Stamper and Alderman Khalif J. Rainey who have "no confidence" in Chief Morales:
"The pattern of failed leadership by Police Chief Alfonso Morales is unmistakable and devastating, and we hope we will soon be moving on from his rocky tenure.
"The Chief failed to discipline a police dispatcher after the dispatcher gave police officers the wrong address of a caller in 2018 who said he would murder a 15-year-old boy (the address did not exist and the boy’s body was found several days later).
"The Chief failed to fire Officer Michael Mattioli for the off-duty chokehold death of Joel Acevedo, even though he had one month to do so before the Fire and Commission took over the disciplinary investigation. And he still has taken no disciplinary action against the officer who knelt on the neck of a face-down, prone protester near 6th and McKinley in the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis (he called it “justified”), and that officer, who took one knee off the back of someone's neck just long enough so that he could use the other knee to pummel that person's stomach, is still on duty.
"That incident happened while so-called “less lethal” munitions - tear gas and rubber bullets - were being used to attempt to injure hundreds of peaceful protesters. Many of them were on their knees chanting “We are peaceful. Are you peaceful?” just before the barrage of chemical irritants and projectiles were intentionally fired. The Chief and his command staff have expressed no regret over that outrageous violation of our citizens' civil liberties, and have used an empty plastic water bottle that caused no injury to anyone as the primary evidence for why such shocking action was necessary.
"Chief Morales, through his actions and words, has disrespected the Black Lives Matter peaceful protest movement and the demands of immigrants and their advocates."
Statement from Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Alderman José G. Pérez and Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa: "We Can Do Better"
"We are supportive of the strong directives for change issued tonight by the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. We expect Chief Morales' response to be positive, prompt, and transparent.
"We need a leader who will unite, not divide, our city. We need someone who will work with us closely to reallocate funds in order to improve the health and safety of all in our city. We need a person invested in building peace and making Milwaukee welcoming for all. We need a Chief who will listen to our community and consider the requests of peaceful protestors.
"We stand with Voces de la Frontera, Black Lives Matter and all of the concerned constituents of our city who are demanding their voices be heard.
"This is the way our city can thrive post pandemic, challenge systemic racism, change the culture within our police department, and protect our city.
"This is the Milwaukee our community expects. This is the Milwaukee our community deserves. This is the Milwaukee we will continue to fight to achieve."