State Reps. Frederick Kessler, Jonathan Brostoff and David Bowen and Rep.-elect David Crowley are proposing legislation to prevent law enforcement officers from arresting or attempting to arrest a person for simply sleeping in a county park.
The measure is a response to the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee on April 30, 2014, by a Milwaukee police officer. The officer had been responding to concern that Hamilton was sleeping in Red Arrow Park. Hamilton had been questioned by two other officers and was found to have been doing nothing more than sleeping.
He was questioned a third time in a situation that escalated to a fatal confrontation.
“Given the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton, it raises questions about the alleged violation he committed by simply sleeping in Red Arrow Park,” Kessler said in a press statement. “For that simple concern, Mr. Hamilton was confronted by two officers initially, on two occasions, and then later, after being questioned by a third officer, lost his life.”
Brostoff stated, “Public parks are for people, period. This legislation will help members of our community who simply want to enjoy a public park and decrease the sort of harassment that led to Donte Hamilton’s terrible demise.”
“If we do not govern to prevent this kind of human rights violation, who will?” asked Crowley. “For too long we have seen an erosion of human rights, especially in communities of color. We need to take proactive steps with legislation like this to ensure the rights of all citizens, without stifling the honorable work of law enforcement.”
The legislation would allow for police to arrest someone sleeping in a county park if that person is known to be wanted for arrest on other charges or the officer believes the individual is a threat to public health or safety. The measure also would provide for county ordinances that prohibit sleeping in a park, but limit the penalty for doing so to a forfeiture of not less than $10 and no more than $200, plus costs.
“There has to be more common sense,” Kessler said. “If you are merely sleeping in a county park, and an officer has no reason to believe you have committed another crime and there is no warrant for your arrest, then there is no reason to be arrested or questioned if all you are doing is sleeping. This legislation is a simple proposal and will hopefully prevent a tragedy such as that involving Dontre Hamilton from happening again.”
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm stands 6’6”, a physical stature that mirrors his outsized role as an innovative prosecutor. But it also mirrors what a large target he’s become as he seeks a fourth term.
Looking to ensure his defeat are two disparate groups: supporters of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and people sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Beset from both ends of the political spectrum, Chisholm plans to focus his campaign on his record as the county’s top prosecutor, a record that’s made his office a national model for crime prevention.
Public health approach
Jeffery Toobin of The New Yorker spent three days with Chisholm last year to learn about his “public health” approach to crime prevention. Toobin highlighted Chisholm’s work in a laudatory May 11, 2015, article titled “The Milwaukee Experiment.”
Chisholm posits that every criminal offense represents a missed opportunity to have intervened with the offender. His model of crime prevention is based on identifying individuals and neighborhoods at high risk of generating violent crime and then providing a host of supportive actions and services aimed at stopping that from happening. He describes the system as an “epidemiological”
approach — analogous to the work of experts who study the incidence, distribution and control of diseases. His approach reflects the work of Dr. Mallory O’Brien, herself an epidemiologist and the founding director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission.
This public health approach recognizes that the vast majority of violent crimes in Milwaukee occur in disadvantaged communities beset by what Chisholm calls “layers of adversity that have persisted for decades.” Without exactly saying it, he’s essentially asking, “What did you expect?”
“A shooting isn’t senseless in a neighborhood where everyone you know has been shot at or is carrying a gun and has been exposed to a lot of violence,” Chisholm explains.
It’s not only violence that begets violence, but also a “host of conditions that are often times beyond the control of the people who live there,” he says. Among those conditions, he points to deep, intractable poverty, a poor school system, low access to public health, empty buildings and a lack of grocery stores.
“There’s also physical things, like lead exposure and the quality of housing people are living in,” Chisholm adds. “And the negative consequences of many things in the penal system — fines, tickets and forfeitures — are compounding problems for people who are resource-challenged to begin with.”
Chisholm has responded to the layers of adversity that breed crime by “paying attention to the fundamental things that breed that toxicity.”
For instance, he says, “You could have a mentally ill person who’s disrupting the neighborhood who’s homeless and who’s got a drug addiction. You might work with law enforcement and family to find safe housing for that person and wrap some resources around (him or her).”
Another example is identifying a house that’s been abandoned and become a drug house. In that instance, the detoxifying action might be tearing down the building.
In an area with many blighted buildings, enlisting Habitat for Humanity and other organizations to revitalize the neighborhood can deter crime.
“One of the things we’ve seen is that if you change the look of the neighborhood and you change the feel of the neighborhood, you actually see a reduction in crime from that alone,” Chisholm says.
Assistant DA offices are housed in police stations located in at-risk neighborhoods. There, they work as a team with community organizations, public service providers and nonprofits that address factors that contribute to crime, such as homelessness and domestic abuse.
Chisholm says the “coolest thing we’ve done” is help to create the $21 million Sojourner Family Peace Center, which is modeled in part on the San Diego Family Justice Center. That facility was credited with helping to reduce domestic violence homicides by 95 percent in 15 years.
Opened late last year, the Sojourner Center brings together a wide array of partners, including the DA’s office, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Schools, Jewish Family Services and the Milwaukee Police Department. Located at 619 W. Walnut St., the 70,000-square-foot center is the largest of around 80 similar facilities that provide shelter, child protection and core health and legal services in one place.
The center allows DAs to intervene when a family’s been exposed to violence, just as epidemiologists would intervene to halt the spread of a disease outbreak.
Reducing crime and incarceration
In addition to the groundbreaking work he’s done in economically challenged communities to prevent crime rather than react to it, Chisholm’s office has a 95 percent conviction rate in homicide cases. He’s established the only dedicated firearms reduction unit in the state — and one of the few in the nation.
Chisholm says that he’s also proud of his success at reducing incarceration rates and arrests for nonviolent drug offenses.
In 2008 and 2009, Milwaukee saw its lowest violent crime rates in 30 years, along with lower rates of other crimes. Chisholm accomplished this while at the same time reducing incarcerations.
Although violent crime crept upward again in 2014 and 2015, Chisholm said it’s significant that he proved it’s possible to decrease crime without locking up massive numbers of people. During his tenure in office, he’s addressed the two issues simultaneously — reducing both crime and incarceration. He says the issues are connected in a way that counters conventional wisdom, and the groundbreaking way he’s addressed the connection is what prosecutors are emulating nationwide.
No good deed goes unpunished
Despite Chisholm’s record of innovation and achievement, groups at both ends of the political spectrum would like to see him defeated in his bid for re-election.
Gunning hardest for Chisholm are the dark money groups he investigated for the case popularly known as John Doe 2. Those groups were charged with illegal coordination of fundraising activities in conjunction with Walker’s recall campaign.
Walker supporters also are steamed about John Doe 1, which looked into the felony misappropriation of county time and resources by Walker’s staff members, who were investigated for helping to run his gubernatorial campaign from the Milwaukee County executive’s office. Many Wisconsin Republicans insist that case was bogus, even though it netted six convictions.
The special interest groups aligned with Walker are armed with a formidable cache of dollars and they’re yearning for vengeance. They’ve been behind efforts to launch a recall campaign against Chisholm.
Walker supporters have lumped the John Doe cases together and dismissed them as a partisan witch-hunt. They’ve said Chisholm was out to get revenge on Walker for curbing teachers’ unions, because Chisholm’s wife is a fourth-grade teacher.
In reality, the decision to prosecute John Doe 2 was made by five DAs, including two Republicans. It was ultimately Fran Schmitz, a Republican and a respected former U.S. district attorney, who took the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
There, justices who’d received millions of dollars from the defendants — but who refused to recuse themselves — ruled retroactively that the law broken by the defendants was unconstitutional. Then they fired Schmitz and ordered him to destroy the evidence.
An appeal of that decision is on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to the right-wing, dark-money crowd, Chisholm also has angered some people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. They’re outraged about decisions made by Chisholm’s office not to seek indictments for excessive use of force against unarmed black men.
Chisholm declined to prosecute three men who piled on top of Corey Stingley, an African-American teen, after they caught him trying to steal alcohol from a convenience store in 2012. Stingley died as a direct result of their assault, but Chisholm determined the facts of the case could not support a criminal conviction.
Chisholm also decided not to issue an indictment against MPD officer Christopher Manney, who gunned down Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man, in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park in April 2014.
Chisholm stands by the Manney decision, saying the law leaves no ambiguities over his ability to prosecute in such scenarios. Witnesses said they saw Hamilton strike Manney with the officer’s baton, an action that qualifies as use of “deadly force” under the law. In such situations, officers are allowed to shoot, regardless of the strongly criticized missteps taken by Manney that precipitated Hamilton’s response.
Manney was fired for those errors.
The Manney decision notwithstanding, Chisholm says he’s not timid about prosecuting police officers, noting he’s charged over 60 in the last 20 years, both as DA and an assistant DA.
Chisholm is stoical about the political repercussions of those cases, saying they go with his position as top county prosecutor.
“No one’s ever going to be happy with a decision like (the Hamilton case),” he says.
Despite the political target on his back, Chisholm’s forward-thinking approach to crime has won him a lot of fans, including officials from law enforcement and unions, as well as elected leaders.
“In 10 years, John Chisholm has led a steady transformation within our criminal justice system,” said state Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, in a prepared endorsement. “District Attorney Chisholm has created specialized teams within his office, and he’s done so without utilizing more tax dollars. This has allowed Milwaukee to establish treatment, alternative, and diversion programs, teams to prosecute domestic violence and sexually motivated crimes, and to place prosecutors in communities throughout Milwaukee to better address neighborhood challenges. Despite these important improvements. … He will continue to fight to make Milwaukee’s criminal justice system more fair and effective for everyone. That is why I am endorsing him for another term.”
On the Web
Learn more about John Chisholm and his Democratic primary challenger Verona Swanigan.
The family of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed African American who was gunned down by a white Milwaukee police officer in 2014, has filed a lawsuit against the Police Department, former officer Christopher Manney, and the city.
Manney shot Hamilton 14 times after responding to complaints from an employee of Starbuck’s Red Arrow Park location about a man sleeping outside. MPD Chief Ed Flynn fired Manney, saying he defied department protocol by unnecessarily frisking Hamilton, who was mentally ill, and sparking the deadly confrontation.
Manney was not charged with a crime, and he fought to get his job back.
Hamilton’s death sparked protests in Milwaukee that coincided with demonstrations around the nation over other black men killed by police.
The Hamilton family has never given up their fight for justice. Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, created the support group Mothers for Justice United for women who’ve lost children in police encounters. She organized a march in Washington, D.C., on Mother’s Day 2015, and her group has met with Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Now, the family is seeking unspecified damages in the civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court on April 27. The suit contends that the department engaged in unconstitutional policies and practices that caused Hamilton’s death.
None of the plaintiffs immediately responded to requests for comment made by The Associated Press.
Two encounters, two outcomes: On April 30, 2014, Dontre Hamilton, a man with paranoid schizophrenia who was asleep in a public park, was approached by a Milwaukee police officer. A scuffle ensued and the officer shot and killed Hamilton.
On Jan. 25, a man threatening to kill himself and any officer who came to his house surrendered without incident after hours of police negotiation.
Clearly, encounters between police and people in mental health crises can result in very different outcomes.
Since the death of Hamilton, actions to implement crisis intervention team training — although used, inconsistently, by Milwaukee area police departments since 2006 — have increased.
Yet, even though such training can be helpful for officers dealing with people in mental health crises, the police are not social service professionals. For that reason, law enforcement should not be the primary resource to help people in these situations.
Of course, law enforcement must always be involved when the public’s safety is endangered.
As a member of the Wisconsin Assembly Mental Health Reform Committee, I’ve heard questions and comments from many citizens concerned about mental health services in Milwaukee. Among these concerns are reports of individuals with mental illness who inappropriately end up in the Milwaukee County Jail. Unfortunately, crisis resource centers that were established to partner with crisis intervention team officers as an alternative to jails have been underfunded and often are unavailable during night hours.
To remedy that problem, the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board was created with the intent of having experts to recommend polices. They’ve suggested expanded hours.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele decided not to implement that recommendation.
People who must rely on county mental services continue to face challenges due to poor county standards of care and inadequate discharge planning, according to the mental health board’s quality subcommittee.
In order to address these and related issues, I held a Feb. 6 community listening session on the state of mental health in Milwaukee at the Washington Park Senior Center. The goal was to gather information from family members, community leaders, professionals, advocates and others with a vested interest in mental health care. I am taking their suggestions back to the Capitol and I’ll be using them next session to create a legislative package to improve mental health care in Milwaukee.
More than a year has passed since the Milwaukee County Mental Health overhaul legislation (Act 203) was enacted. It is time to look at what is working, what needs improvement, and what else we can do to make improvements.
State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff represents Assembly District 19. He supports state Sen. Chris Larson for Milwaukee County Executive.
WiG welcomes opinions. Please email
Police arrested six demonstrators on Nov. 19 during downtown Milwaukee’s annual Christmas tree lighting at Red Arrow Park.
According to police, protesters associated with the Coalition for Justice disrupted the ceremony by chanting and blocking the stage during a middle-school choir performance. About 500 people were in attendance.
Police officers made the arrests after protesters ignored orders to stop disrupting the event. The protesters face charges of disorderly conduct.
Among those arrested was Nate Hamilton, whose brother Dontre Hamilton was killed by a Milwaukee police officer outside the Starbucks at Red Arrow Park on April 30, 2014.
Acting in response to complaints by Starbucks’ employees, ex-MPD officer Christopher Manney confronted Dontre Hamilton, who was unarmed and mentally ill, for sleeping in the park. A scuffle ensued and Manney shot Hamilton 14 times.
Police Chief Ed Flynn said his officers have tolerated past protests in the name of free speech, but that this time he said demonstrators decided to make their rights more important than the 500 people who had gathered for the tree lighting.
Speaking for the protesters, Pastor Steve Jerbi of All People’s Church said the demonstration was “intended to show the children that not everyone is celebrating at this time of year and children should know what goes on in the city they live in,” CBS 58 reported.
State Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, questioned the decision by police to keep the protesters in jail “for an oddly excessive amount of time. He said the arrests were unwarranted.
“Nate Hamilton and other advocates should not have been arrested … for attempting to remind Milwaukee that the Hamilton family did not receive justice and that Black Lives actually Matter,” Bowen said in a statement. “Not one more penny of taxpayer money should be used to prosecute them. They deserve an immediate apology from the City and County officials involved.
“After all, if we truly want to acknowledge the values of the holiday season we should be inclusive and extend those values to how we treat everybody — even protesters who dare to shed light on our wrongdoings,” Bowen added.
The Justice Department announced on Nov. 10 that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against former Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney for the death of Dontre Hamilton on April 30, 2014.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI met on Nov. 10 with Hamilton’s family and their representatives to inform them of this decision.
In a statement to the press, the Justice Department said federal authorities conducted a “comprehensive and independent review of the evidence” collected related to the death of Hamilton, who was shot during a struggle with Manney. This included reviewing all information from the state investigation, reviewing all recorded interviews, consulting with the Milwaukee County medical examiner and reviewing the transcripts from Manney’s termination hearing by the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission.
The team of federal prosecutors and FBI agents considered whether Manney violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Hamilton.
The Justice Department said under federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. “Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” according to DOJ.
In the Milwaukee case, there were civilian witnesses who saw some part of the physical confrontation between Manney and Hamilton. Based on those eyewitness accounts, the account of the former officer involved, the physical evidence and the assessments of independent use of force experts, the federal team determined “the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Manney acted willfully with a bad purpose to violate the law.”
Accordingly, the federal review of the killing of Dontre Hamilton has been closed without prosecution.
Justice’s statement said, “This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the incident that led to Hamilton’s death.”
Responding on Nov. 10, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, said, “As a mother to two young black men, I am especially saddened by the Department of Justice’s decision not to bring criminal civil rights charges against Officer Christopher Manney. More than 18 months have passed since Officer Manney fatally shot Dontre Hamilton — an unarmed black man struggling with mental illness — and many unanswered questions still remain. Although this decision is certainly a setback, it is by no means the end of our collective efforts to pursue justice for the Hamilton family. I continue to hold them in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time, as I know the wounds from such a devastating loss will take time to heal.”
Moore also said, “With violence in Milwaukee on the rise, we must strive to mend the relationship between the police and the people they serve, especially for those with disabilities and in communities of color.”
A police officer who fatally shot a man in a downtown Milwaukee park will receive duty disability pay.
Christopher Manney filed a claim saying the shooting and aftermath caused him to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The disability retirement pay usually amounts to about 75 percent of an officer’s salary — and it’s tax free. The Journal Sentinel reports Manney’s gross salary was about $71,000.
The city’s Annuity and Pension Board approved the claim based on a review by a panel of doctors.
Prosecutors ruled the shooting justified, but Manney was fired for failing to follow department protocol in his approach to Dontre Hamilton at Red Arrow Park in April 2014.
Manney said Hamilton grabbed his baton and attacked him with it, and the officer shot him more than a dozen times.
Hamilton’s death sparked outcry in Milwaukee and a movement against police violence, led by Hamilton’s family.
Earlier this month, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, as well as other parents whose children died in shootings to outline her criminal justice and gun control plans. The mothers of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice attended, as did family of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.
The seventh annual Milwaukee Film Festival has announced its 2015 Jury Award Winners, presenting honors in the Competition and Cream City Cinema programs, which include cash prizes of $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.
This is the second Cream City Cinema program win for John Roberts, who also won the award in 2009.
Additional awards were made for a second year by the Shorter is Better and Kids’ Choice Juries.
For the first time, Milwaukee Film also presented awards for Documentary Festival Favorites and the Brico Forward Fund.
“The fact that we had 57 applicants for the inaugural year of the Brico Forward Fund really speaks to the prevalence of filmmaking and the need for financial support in Milwaukee,” said executive director Jonathan Jackson, in a news release. “We can’t thank our donors enough for their generosity in enabling Milwaukee Film to offer such substantial support to these local filmmakers.”
Brico Forward Fund top honors were awarded for continued production of a feature documentary based on local filmmaker Erik Ljung’s Mothers For Justice, a short film included in the 2015 Cream City Cinema’s Milwaukee Show II. “Mothers for Justice” follows Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, who was shot by a police officer in 2014 in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park. In 2015, Maria Hamilton founded the organization Mothers for Justice dedicated to uniting mothers who have lost children in police related deaths and demanding further investigation and accountability from law enforcement.
The Brico Forward Fund, announced earlier this year, is an annual granting program with dedicated funding opportunities for local filmmakers, offering the funds and tools necessary to create and complete worthy filmmaking projects
The 2015 award pool included $50,000 in cash and $76,000 worth of sponsor-donated production resources (camera rentals, lighting rentals and post-production audio and visual services, etc). From this pool, the jury awarded recipients individualized packages to suit the project’s needs and merit.
The Allan H. Bud and Suzanne L. Selig Audience Awards for Feature and Short Films will be announced at the conclusion of the festival this month.
2015 MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL JURY AWARDS
Abele Catalyst Award
Donna and Donald Baumgartner
Herzfeld Competition Award ($10,000 cash)
“No One’s Child” (dir. Vuk Ršumović)
Cream City Cinema ($5,000 cash)
“Lemon” (dir. John Roberts)
Cream City Cinema Special Jury Prize
“The Sound Man” (dir. Chip Duncan)
Documentary Jury Award ($5,000 cash)
“The Look of Silence” (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
Shorter Is Better Award ($1,000 cash)
“Giovanni and the Water Ballet” (dir. Astrid Bussink)
Shorter Is Better Special Jury Prizes
“We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” (dir. Konstantin Bronzit)
“De Smet” (dirs. Thomas Baerten, Wim Geudens)
Kids Choice Short Film Award ($1,000 cash)
“A Place in the Middle” (dirs. Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson)
Kids Choice Special Jury Prizes
“Papa” (dir. Natalie Labarre)
“Johnny Express” (dir. James Woo)
Pitch Us Your Doc! Contest Winner (initially announced October 3)
“Wingman Dad” (Elizabeth Ridley)
Brico Forward Fund Winners
“Mothers for Justice” (working title) (Erik Ljung)
“The Night Country”
“When Claude Got Shot” (Brad Lichtenstein)
“Never Home” (working title) (Pang Yang Her)
“Just Eat” (Laura Dyan Kezman)
“Lunar Man” (Kyle V. James)
All Milwaukee police officers on the street would be wearing body cameras by the end of 2016 under a proposal announced July 30 by Mayor Tom Barrett.
The proposal, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1JqBjAX ), comes after tense episodes between police and Milwaukee’s African-American community and fatal shootings by police in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; and North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked discussion nationwide about race and policing. Last year, 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer in a downtown park.
According to Barrett’s preliminary budget, body cameras for 1,200 Milwaukee street officers — including storage of video information — would cost $880,000 in 2016 and about $1 million a year beginning in 2017.
The estimated cost is about what it would cost to add 12 officers to the department’s ranks of 1,880 sworn officers, Barrett told the newspaper.
“The question is: Is it worth 12 officers?” the mayor asked. “That’s a legitimate public policy debate.”
He added: “I embrace it wholeheartedly, both from a fiscal standpoint and from a policy standpoint.”
Both Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, Mike Crivello, support the initiative.
“If that’s OK with (citizens), it’s sure OK with us because, from the average officer’s point of view, it’s going to overwhelmingly put in context what they’re dealing with, what they try to do and what actually happens,” Flynn said at Marquette University last week.
“We’re looking forward to getting them,” he said.
Appearing with the mayor on July 30, Flynn said Milwaukee police officers will have discretion to turn off the cameras for certain sensitive calls as part of a new department policy on use of the devices.
“This is new territory for American citizens as well as for police departments, and balancing a reasonable expectation of privacy when you summon the police department to deal with a family crisis has to be balanced with our need to be accountable and transparent,” Flynn said.
Crivello said there is “no doubt” the cameras “will absolutely depict the professionalism that our officers display on a daily basis.”
If Barrett’s proposal is approved, Milwaukee would join a growing number of police departments nationwide that are considering the use of body cameras or already outfitting some officers.
Attorney Robin Shellow represents some of the more than 60 people who have filed civil rights lawsuits against the City of Milwaukee and the Police Department alleging improper strip and cavity searches. While Shellow said she supports body cameras for police, she thinks more needs to be done.
“Yes, I believe in body cameras, but more importantly I think we should have police officers with college educations,” Shellow said. “I think that would do a lot more to reduce unconstitutional interactions.”