Milwaukee council OKs $3.4M settlement of ‘stop-and-frisk’ lawsuit

Milwaukee council OKs $3.4M settlement of ‘stop-and-frisk’ lawsuit

By Gary Gately   
Charles Collins, a black Milwaukee resident of more than 50 years, was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging "stop-and-frisk" policing in Milwaukee discriminated against blacks and Latinos. City lawmakers approved a $3.4 million settlement of the suit Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of ACLU)

WASHINGTON — Milwaukee lawmakers Tuesday approved a $3.4 million settlement of a federal lawsuit that alleged “stop-and-frisk” policing discriminated against blacks and Latinos in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law.

The settlement won 12-2 approval from the Milwaukee Common Council and  now goes to Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, for his expected signature.

A group of black and Latino city residents — represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and attorneys from the Washington law firm Covington & Burling — had challenged the city police department’s stop-and-frisk policy in a lawsuit.

The suit alleged officers had made hundreds of thousands of stops of blacks and Latinos over the past decade without reasonable suspicion.  Blacks and Latinos had been also targeted at a much higher rate than whites, suggesting racial and ethnic profiling, the suit contended.

“The Milwaukee Police Department’s work must be guided by evidence and the rule of law, not by the color of someone’s skin,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The plaintiffs sued the City of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission and then-Police Chief Edward Flynn in February 2017. The suit alleged the stop-and-frisk policing violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and that the racial profiling violated the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, barring discrimination based on race, color or national origin

Photo courtesy of Joseph Curtis

The settlement requires that law enforcement end unlawful stops and frisks; devise reforms to prevent them; improve data collection, training and supervision; and establish a means of public accountability.

In an amended complaint in May 2017, attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote: “Black and Latino people throughout Milwaukee – including children — fear that they may be stopped, frisked, or otherwise treated like criminal suspects when doing nothing more than walking to a friend’s house or home from school, driving to and from the homes of loved ones, running errands, or simply taking a leisurely walk or drive through the City.

“No matter where they are in the City,” the 91-page complaint continued, “Black and Latino people face the constant fear that they and their children may be subjected to police harassment even if they are doing nothing wrong.”

The attorneys ascribed the Milwaukee Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policing to the “broken windows” law enforcement philosophy — which dates to the early 1980s and is rooted in the idea that aggressive enforcement and arrests for minor offenses prevent major crimes.

The suit accused the MPD of “blanketing certain geographic areas in which residents are predominantly people of color with ‘saturation patrols’ by MPD officers, who conduct high-volume, suspicionless stops and frisks throughout the area.”

“Over time,” the suit claimed, “the MPD’s program has developed into a formal and informal quota system that requires patrol officers to meet numerical targets for stops on a regular basis.”

In a statement released by the ACLU Tuesday, lead plaintiff Charles Collins, a black Milwaukee resident of more than 50 years, said: “I was stopped by Milwaukee police and treated like a suspect when I wasn’t doing anything wrong. This agreement gives me hope that the police will change the way they treat me and that I will be able to leave my home and be free of suspicion.”

Neither the office of Mayor Barrett nor the Milwaukee Police Department could immediately reached for comment Tuesday evening.

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