Officers charged amidst growing controversy surrounding MPD
MILWAUKEE -- Four Milwaukee police officers were charged Tuesday, October 9th for criminal misconduct related to illegal strip searches of individuals in the community. Victims have filed notices claiming they were illegally searched, and now, those four officers have been suspended with pay. This likely could not have come at a worse time for the Milwaukee Police Department -- as some were already calling for Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn's job in light of his department's handling of the death of 22-year-old Derek Williams and the handling of the mother of a young shooting victim -- 13-year-old Darius Simmons.
Following a seven-month investigation Chief Flynn says was initiated by MPD, four MPD officers were charged Tuesday. Chief Flynn says the investigation focused on select officers from MPD's District 5.
34-year-old 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.
41-year-old Officer Jeffrey Dollhopf faces two counts of violating the strip search law and two counts of misconduct in public office.
Officers Brian Kozelek, 33 and Jacob Knight, 31 each face one count of violating the strip search law and one count of misconduct in public office.
The criminal complaint in the case details incidents spanning from February of 2010 to February of 2012.
Chief Flynn said Tuesday the public should be looking at how he and the department have responded to the recent controversy surrounding his department as a positive thing -- and for how, he has the support of Milwaukee's Mayor Tom Barrett.
Meanwhile, some in the community are more concerned with the job Chief Flynn is doing -- with a number of high-profile controversies surrounding the Milwaukee Police Department in recent weeks.
Chief Flynn says he defends the actions of his administration through the recent tough times, and says it is the department itself that initiated the internal investigation surrounding the illegal strip searches.
"The responsibility is to hold the agency accountable and to conduct a thorough and complete investigation when there are allegations of misconduct, and we have done so," Chief Flynn said.
Mayor Barrett is standing by Chief Flynn -- but Mayor Barrett says Chief Flynn needs to work on improving the community's recently rocked trust in the department.
"I do not support removing the Chief at this time. I think these investigations need to move forward," Mayor Barrett said.
That's not good enough for Maeleen Jordan -- Williams' aunt.
A new investigation into Williams' death is underway after recently-released dashcam video shows Williams' struggling to breathe in the backseat of a squad car following being taken into custody for an alleged robbery. Williams' cause of death was amended from Sickle cell trait (natural causes) to homicide (death at the hands of another).
Jordan said she is grateful for the charges filed against the officers Tuesday, but says it is just one step towards correcting what she sees as major problems with the police. Jordan says she feels Chief Flynn may have to go.
"This is step one. I'm just waiting on the second charge -- which will be my nephew's homicide charges against these guys. I'm happy. I'm thrilled. I'm thankful for the strength of people to get behind me and make some change. We didn't change everything yet but we are starting," Jordan said.
Chief Flynn and Mayor Barrett pointed out Tuesday that every major city in the country unfortunately deals with police misconduct. They say the fact that the Milwaukee Police Department is checking itself shows how seriously it is being taken here.
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