Milwaukee reckless drivers face light consequences until they crash

If you fire a gun at someone and miss, you can be charged with attempted murder. Drive a 3,000 pound missile through red lights and stop signs, and you'll probably end up with little more than a fine. A FOX6 investigation finds even the most persistent reckless drivers face serious consequences only after someone gets hurt.

There is hardly a better case that illustrates the point than that of 25-year-old Dirul Chaplin. FOX6 Investigators first told you about Chaplin last spring. He's a reckless driver who had been stopped by police 35 times in three years. Since then, he's been pulled over at least two more times. But it's where he was going in such a hurry that just might leave you shaking your head.

Dirul Chaplin drove himself to the Waukesha County Courthouse to be sentenced for driving while revoked.

The FOX6 Investigators caught up with Chaplin in January outside the Waukesha County Courthouse. He had just pulled into the parking lot in an unregistered 2010 Dodge Caliber. 

"So you’re just going to keep on driving illegally no matter what?" Polcyn asked.

Chaplin paused before replying, "You can suck a [expletive]." 

Chaplin's driving privilege is officially listed as "revoked" by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, though it's unclear if he ever had a valid license to drive. Even after we profiled his 37-page list of traffic violations in an April 2022 story, Chaplin continued to drive illegally, getting stopped at least two more times over the next six months. FOX6 News obtained dash camera and body camera video of those traffic stops from Milwaukee police.

On September 17, 2022, Chaplin makes a left turn from the far right lane at a stoplight, directly in front of a Milwaukee Police squad car.

In September, one video shows Chaplin waiting at a red light in the far right lane at a four-way intersection. The moment the light turns green, he makes a left turn, crossing in front of three lanes of traffic, and forcing a police squad car coming the opposite way to hit the brakes to avoid a crash.

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"I shouldn't have to hit my brakes to not hit you," the officer told Chaplin after pulling him over. "You know what I'm saying?"

"Hell yeah, I feel you," Chaplin replies. "But at the same time, I was tryin' to go this way. I knew I was in the wrong lane. I didn't know you was right there."

The officer asked to see his vehicle registration. 

"Do you got, like, the registration, anything? The bill of sale or anything that’s got the VIN on it or anything?" the officer asked.

"Hell no," Chaplin replied.

It seems Chaplin has no fear of getting caught violating traffic laws, much less hurting someone else.

"You’re endangering the public," said FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn.

"I don’t care," Chaplin said, repeating himself twice more. "I don't care. I don't care."

FOX6 News first told you about Chaplin in spring 2022. By then, he had been stopped by police agencies all over southeast Wisconsin – at least 35 times in three years. Twenty-four of those stops were made by Milwaukee police alone. The violations include:

  • Running red lights
  • Blowing through stop signs
  • Cutting off traffic
  • Speeding up to 41 miles per hour over the limit

In almost every case, citations indicate Chaplin had no valid registration, no insurance and, of course, no license.

"People don’t care about that," Chaplin said. "That just, you know, the older people care about that."

Jordan Morales is a member of the Sherman Park Reckless Driving Committee in a Milwaukee neighborhood deeply impacted by dangerous driving.

"As far as I’m concerned, his picture should be on the dashboard of every Milwaukee police officer’s cruiser," Morales said. "Please just do it for the sake of all of us in the community. This guy is a menace."

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Officers had that chance when they stopped Chaplin in September – and again in December. Instead, they let him drive away.

"They know when he pulls away, he’s breaking the law," Polcyn said.

"Yep," Morales replied.

"We shouldn’t allow individuals who don’t have a license to drive away," said Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman, though he couldn't say why it keeps happening with Chaplin. "We can look into it and make sure we are doing everything we can to possibly impact that particular individual."

"Four years? Nearly 40 times?" asked Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy. "What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for this individual or other individuals like this to kill somebody before you do something?"

"I'm living that heartache every day," said Abbie Strong, whose world was turned upside down by a different reckless driver. "It's a very selfish choice that he made that morning."

Abbie Strong's husband, Aaron, was killed by a drunk driver who ran 5 red lights in a 7 block stretch on the Marquette campus in October 2022.

On October 12, 2022, Jose Silva was late for jury duty at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The 22-year-old was coming off a bender the night before with a blood alcohol concentration that still measured .19 – well over twice the legal limit for intoxication behind the wheel. Police say Silva ran five red lights on the Marquette University campus – two on the wrong side of the road – before crashing into a Nissan sedan just outside the Wisconsin Club. Inside that car was Abbie's husband, Aaron Strong, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church downtown. She got the call and hurried to the hospital, but Aaron was already dead.

"I could hold his cold hand and kiss his cold cheek," Strong said. "And I knew that he was with his savior in heaven."

Aaron Strong was pastor of Milwaukee's Grace Lutheran Church downtown.

One man's reckless decision changed everything.

"I thank the Lord that he didn’t kill dozens of other people along the way, but he did kill my person," Strong said. "He killed my husband. He killed my children's father. And that has left a huge impact not just on my family, but also on my church family, too. They lost a pastor."

Unlike Chaplin, Silva had almost no prior record. Still, in February, he pleaded guilty to homicide – and according to a plea agreement with the state, he is likely to face at least ten years in prison.

"There are consequences for this," Strong said.

22-year-old Jose Silva had no prior citations from Milwaukee Police before the crash that killed Aaron Strong. He pleaded guilty to homicide as prosecutors recommended 10 years in prison.

In other words, when it comes to reckless driving, it's not just the behavior that matters under the law. It's the result.

"So, reckless driving is only a violent crime if someone gets hurt or killed," Polcyn said. 

"According to state law, for the most part, yeah," Morales said. "And that’s unfortunate."

"Reckless driving continues to be a top issue, a top priority, a public safety priority to me," said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson. 

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson

The first-term mayor has focused much of his effort on investing in road and street engineering, such as curb bumpouts, that make it harder to pass on the right – or speed humps that slow down traffic on neighborhood streets.

"I believe that it is having an effect," Johnson said.

Chief Norman said targeted enforcement by his traffic safety unit is getting results.

"I feel good," Norman said. "I feel that we’re making headway."

Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman

But Alderman Murphy, the former chair of Milwaukee's reckless driving task force, said it is not enough.

"There is some improvement," Murphy said. "But I think the reality is we have a long way to go."

Especially when it comes to the city's most persistent offenders.

"We’re tired of being the damn fools around here!" said State Rep. Bob Donovan.

The longtime Milwaukee alderman, now in the State Assembly, introduced two reckless driving bills in Madison. One would double fines and potential jail sentences. The other would make it easier for police to take away their cars.

"It takes the weapon out of the hands of reckless drivers," Strong said as she testified in favor of the bills at a committee hearing on Feb. 9. 

Mayor Johnson showed up to support the bills.

"Reckless driving is scourge on Milwaukee," Johnson said.

The Assembly quickly passed both bills. The Senate approved the impounds bill (AB 56 / SB 92) and sent it to Governor Evers for his signature on Wednesday, March 29th.

"I will say that there’s a message being sent," said Norman.

Whatever the message, Chaplin does not seem to hear it. Consider his most recent traffic stop on Dec. 14.

"The reason I stopped you, you were going 59 in a 35. Any reason why you’re goin’ that fast?" the officer said.

Former Milwaukee Alderman and current State Representative Bob Donovan testifies in favor of two reckless driving bills in Madison in February 2023

"I'm going to court," Chaplin answered.

"You're going to court?" the officer asked.

"Hell yeah," Chaplin replied.

Turns out, Chaplin was speeding because he was running late for traffic court in Waukesha where he was scheduled to be sentenced for driving while revoked for at least the fourth time.

"You drove illegally to a court hearing for driving illegally," Polcyn said.

"Does it matter what I’m doing?" Chaplin asked.

Judge Dennis Moroney fined Chaplin $442 plus $200 in court costs (all of which remains unpaid). Chaplin received no jail time. You can probably guess what happened next.

"How are you going to get home," Polcyn asked. "This is your car, right?"

"I'm fittin' to drive!" Chaplin responded.

Then, Chaplin drove home.

Chaplin still owes $9,750 in total fines from 82 separate traffic tickets in Milwaukee dating back to 2018.

Chief Norman says the city might need to take a different approach with him. For instance, a lawsuit. The city has already sued two other repeat reckless drivers, resulting in court judgments that declared those drivers to be a public nuisance. That means their next traffic violation could land them in jail for contempt of court.