Milwaukee leaders, residents respond to Morales' demotion with mixed opinions

The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission on Thursday, Aug. 6 voted to demote Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales to the rank of captain.

At the same meeting, the FPC appointed Assistant Chief Michael Brunson as acting chief of the Milwaukee Police Department. He was sworn in on Friday morning, Aug. 7.

Morales and his attorney, Frank Gimbel, watched the vote remotely.

"I had a sense from the very beginning of my involvement as the lawyer for Chief Morales that he was going to be discharged in one fashion or another," Gimbel said.

Morales, who has been with the department for nearly three decades, is now figuring out his next move -- not ruling out legal action. However, he did say he will cooperate with Acting Chief Brunson for the transition to serve the interest of the people of Milwaukee.

"He is in a state of deliberation about his future in life," said Gimbel.

Attorney Frank Gimbel, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales

The possibility of disciplining Morales came after he ordered officers to use tear gas to break up protests over George Floyd’s death. It was the last straw for some FPC members who were upset over how Morales has handled incidents since the arrest of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown in 2018.

The demotion came after the FPC issued 11 directives for Morales to comply with, directives that he was working to fulfill. FPC members did not comment on their unanimous decision following Thursday's meeting.

There are some that say the demotion is yet another political stunt, only this time, it takes a good police officer out of a position of power. But those in favor of the move said it does not go far enough to bridge the gap between the Milwaukee Police Department and the people they are sworn to protect.

City leaders expressed their thoughts on the FPC vote in its wake, many of whom disagreed with how the commission handled the situation.

Thursday night, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said that he is going to do everything he can to restore transparency in the process and restore respect within the FPC and the Milwaukee Police Department.

"I am not happy with what happened tonight at all," Barrett said. "I am angry at what happened tonight because what the commission did was at the last minute amend the hearing notice and took this action tonight.

"I want to see our Fire and Police Commission respected. I want to see our police department respected. I want to see an improvement in police-community relations in the City of Milwaukee."

Tear gas used near 6th and Fond du Lac/McKinley in Milwaukee

Anne Schwartz, a former MPD spokesperson, was "disappointed" by the outcome.

"I'm disappointed this process was so incredibly secretive," Schwartz said. "(Morales) fights for his officers and he fought for himself right until the end."

The Milwaukee Police Association on Friday, Aug. 7 released a statement, calling the FPC's decision "a tragic event."

Read the full statement from the Milwaukee Police Association below:

Community activist Tracey Dent said commissioners acted hastily and without transparency.

"By the time they renewed his contract to now, what was so horrible that they had to, we have to demote him," Dent said. "I think they should have gave him more time."

While some say Morales wasn't given enough time to prove himself as chief, on the job for just two-and-a-half years, others said that in that short period of time he could not be trusted to protect Milwaukee's citizens.

A joint statement from several community groups called the FPC vote a "positive step in providing desperately needed accountability."

Southside resident Becky Burton commended the FPC for taking a stand against the police use of tear gas to break up crowds during protests.

"It's a difficult job, and I respect the people who are willing to go into law enforcement," Burton said. "But I do think that we should be protecting our own citizens and not using excessive force against them."

At Milwaukee's lakefront on Friday, some said they welcome the move made by the commission.

"I feel like it was a necessary move. I feel like he wasn't doing very well with his job, or handling certain situations the best way that he could," said Milwaukee resident Courtney Francois.

The situation that many supporters of Morales' demotion honed-in on was the use of tear gas on protesters following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Police said they used tear gas only after protesters threw objects at officers.

"I don't know why tear-gassing people, calling in the National Guard...I don't think that's necessary," Joshua Marino of Milwaukee said. "I think what he should've been doing is listening to the protests and understand what they're saying, instead of using violence to escalate the situation."

Joel Acevedo (L) and Michael Mattioli (R)

In addition to protest response, Morales has faced criticism for not firing MPD Officer Michael Mattioli this spring when he became a suspect in a murder investigation. Prosecutors said Mattioli, while off-duty, killed Joel Acevedo in April. Morales suspended Mattioli, but he maintained that he did not have the authority to terminate him; that, Morales said, was a decision in the FPC's hands.

Attorney's for Acevedo's family said Morales' demotion is the change the police department needed.

"I think it goes to show there is a check and balance in place, and also symbolizes that the police department works for the people, they work for the citizens and residents of Milwaukee," B'Ivory Lamarr, Acevedo family attorney, said.

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales meets with community leaders at Sherman Park (Courtesy: MPD)

There were some in the community who favored Morales' demotion, but questioned if the discipline handed down is enough to bring institutional change to the department.

"If you're looking to solve a problem, taking the head off the snake doesn't really solve anything," Evan Kortevein of Milwaukee said.

As for Acting Chief Brunson, community members across the board said they hope that he prioritizes community-police relations. Specifically, they would like to see de-escalation become a priority and officers listen more to citizens.

Barrett said he would like to see a national search for the next Milwaukee police chief.

Assistant Chief Michael Brunson sworn-in as acting Milwaukee Police Chief

Michael Brunson was sworn-in as acting chief of the Milwaukee Police Department on Aug. 7.

Milwaukee FPC votes to demote police chief to captain for role in MPD's protest response

The Milwaukee FPC on Thursday voted to demote MPD Chief Alfonso Morales to the rank of captain for his role in the department's protest response, including the use of tear gas.