Mayor Barrett responds to officers charged, MPD controversy

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett spoke with FOX6 News Tuesday morning, October 9th regarding the recent controversy surrounding the Milwaukee Police Department. The controversy has involved the death of 22-year-old Derek Williams while in police custody and recently released dashcam video that has sparked outrage among community and faith leaders, MPD's handling of the mother of 13-year-old Darius Simmons, who was shot to death, allegedly by his neighbor and a body cavity search investigation against MPD officers that resulted in charges filed Tuesday.

Four Milwaukee police officers were formally charged Tuesday for criminal misconduct related to illegal strip searches of individuals in the community. Seven people have filed notices claiming they were illegally searched.

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said following a seven-month investigation, the four officers have been charged and suspended with pay.

Seven officers and one supervisor were initially suspended, but four have been restored to active duty.

"I spent the last hour looking over the (criminal) complaint. I'm disgusted. I'm outraged. They should be off the payroll as soon as possible," Mayor Barrett said.

Officer Michael Vagnini faces 25 counts of violating the strip search law, misconduct in public office and second-degree sexual assault. If convicted of these crimes, Vagnini faces up to 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.

Officer Jeffrey Dollhopf faces two counts of violating the strip search law and two counts of misconduct in public office.

Officers Brian Kozelek and Jacob Knight each face one count of violating the strip search law and one count of misconduct in public office.

CLICK HERE to read the entire criminal complaint. WARNING: the content described in the complaint is graphic and not suitable for all readers.

According to the police department, an officer is allowed to perform a strip search when they have written permission from the chief, and have probable cause to believe the detained person is concealing a weapon. These types of searches are not allowed to take place in front of the eyes of anyone not conducting the search. 

Under the department's policy and state law, cavity searches may only be performed by physicians, physician's assistants or nurses.

If an officer is found to have conducted an illegal strip search, they could face up to 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

"This was a situation where Chief Flynn recognized that there was a problem within the Milwaukee Police Department.  He referred it to District Attorney John Chisholm for an investigation, and he did it specifically in a fashion that would make sure that there was cooperation by the police officers that were involved.  I think it’s another example of Chief Flynn trying to make sure that we’ve got the right culture in the Milwaukee Police Department because the allegations are serious allegations.  If what’s been alleged is true, they are clear violations of the law, and so the Chief decided on a proactive basis to refer this to the District Attorney," Mayor Barrett said Tuesday morning -- before formal charges were filed.

As it relates to the Williams' case, community members have most recently called on Mayor Barrett to take action, including firing Chief Flynn.

A rotating series of billboards has for the last two weeks demanded Milwaukee police take responsibility for the death of Williams. At the same time, multiple community groups have asked Chief Flynn to resign. As of this week, the target of those ads appears to be Mayor Barrett.

Michael Bell bought 43 billboards with money his family won in a settlement after Kenosha police killed his son in 2004.

"With the death of Darius Simmons, with the death of Derek Williams -- there is a lot of emotion, and that emotion is real. It's  important that when we have investigations, that they’re creidible investigations. That’s why literally within hours of seeing the (dashcam) video involving the death of Derek Williams, I called for an independent investigation by the District Attorney’s Office because it’s important for me as Mayor to have our police department have credibility.  I don’t know what’s going to come from that investigation, but having a fresh set of eyes I felt, and still believe, is very important," Mayor Barrett said.

In light of all the recent controversy surrounding MPD and Chief Flynn -- Mayor Barrett stopped short Tuesday of saying he's lost confidence in the chief and the department.

"This is a very difficult time. It’s a very emotional time. If I were a parent of (Williams or Simmons) I would be very emotional about it. That’s why I think it’s important (to have) a fresh set of eyes on this investigation.  The police chief is here. He’s got a four year term. I want to have credibility for our police department, because it’s important for me as Mayor, that we have a police department that is proactive -- that we have a police department that recognizes that this is a multi-racial, multi-economic city and also supports our police officers. There are times all three of those are difficult to do at the same time, but that’s the balance we have to achiev," Mayor Barrett said.

CLICK HERE for more stories on the alleged illegal strip searches conducted by MPD officers.

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