Milwaukee lawsuit, controversial arrest, committee approves $270K settlement

The Milwaukee Common Council's Judiciary and Legislation Committee approved a $270,000 settlement in connection with a lawsuit filed by a man whose controversial arrest was caught on camera in June 2020.

The vote was unanimous: 5-0. The settlement must next be approved by the full Milwaukee Common Council.

Cameron Murdoch, 28, of Milwaukee was seen on video being detained near 6th and McKinley on June 2, 2020. In the video, a Milwaukee police officer is seen briefly placing his knee on Murdoch's neck.

Murdoch's attorneys said officers used excessive force and that the arrest was unlawful. In the notice of claim, they requested $500,000 in damages.

Then-Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said that he did not see anything wrong with the arrest, but the Milwaukee Police Department launched an internal investigation.

A letter to the Milwaukee Common Council from the Milwaukee City Attorney says Murdoch's civil rights lawsuit claimed "he was unlawfully arrested on June 2, 2020, while participating in a peaceful protest march in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. Murdoch claimed, in particular, that officers used excessive force to effectuate his arrest, failed to intervene to prevent the violation of his constitutional rights, and then made defamatory statements to the public following his arrest. Murdoch also alleged the city of Milwaukee had a policy or widespread practice that led to the violation of his constitutional rights."

The letter said the parties agreed to settle the matter short of trial, and Murdoch agreed to accept $270,000 for his claims, "including his claims for reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under federal civil rights law."

The letter from the Milwaukee City Attorney said: "The proposed settlement is in the city's best interest" due to the "unpredictability of trial" and damages/costs.

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After the June 2020 incident, the Milwaukee Police Department released these statements:

"The Milwaukee Police Department is aware of a video that has been circulating on social media.  The video captured the arrest of a subject that occurred on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, at approximately 7:20 p.m., on the 600 block of West McKinley Avenue.

MPD officers were at the location to monitor what was a peaceful protest. While on scene, several protestors attempted to surround and block squad cars that were monitoring the demonstration.

As an officer attempted to take the main suspect into custody, the suspect pulled away, causing the officer, the suspect and the suspect’s bicycle to fall to the ground. A brief struggle ensued and a secondary officer assisted in the arrest.

During the course of this incident, force was used to gain compliance.

The encounter on the ground lasted approximately two minutes and after the suspect was handcuffed he was immediately brought to his feet. The suspect was later identified as a 28-year-old Milwaukee man, who was cited for disorderly conduct and later released.

The force utilized by the members in this incident is under review."

A Milwaukee Police Department spokeswoman issued this statement in June 2020:

"The individual was arrested for disorderly conduct after he and several other bicyclists attempted to surround police officers. Once on the ground, he held on to a bicycle and refused to let it go. Officers attempted to place the individual under arrest; however, he refused to comply.  MPD is looking into this incident.  Additional information will be provided regarding this incident."

She added the individual who was arrested refused to put his hands behind his back, and that's why force was used -- indicating the protester was not kicked but was struck with the officer's knee. She explained that officers are trained to place a knee on the shoulder blade of a suspect, however, when individuals are actively moving, that could change.

She noted the officer did not purposely try to put his knee on the individual's neck.