Tag Archives: John Chisholm

Charges against cop who shot Sylville Smith were not meant to send message

The prosecutor who charged a former Milwaukee police officer with killing Sylville Smith in a shooting that sparked riots in Wisconsin’s largest city said he’s not trying to send a message to the public about police use-of-force.
District Attorney John Chisholm said he’s confident the facts support the felony reckless homicide charge against Dominique Heaggan-Brown.

Heaggan-Brown shot Sylville Smith, 23, during a traffic stop in August. According to court documents, body cameras Heaggan-Brown and his partner wore showed Smith had a gun but was unarmed when Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, fired the fatal shot.
The shooting ignited two nights of riots. The violence followed similar unrest in cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore in response to the deaths of black men at the hands of police. The killings sparked the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement calling for major changes in how police deal with minority communities.

Heaggan-Brown was fired in October over unrelated charges in a sexual assault case but the city had been waiting for months to see whether prosecutors would charge him in the shooting. Chisholm did just that Dec. 15, when he quietly filed the felony reckless homicide charge against Heaggan-Brown.

Police Chief Ed Flynn questioned Chisholm’s decision, saying Heaggan-Brown faced a “combat situation.” Flynn said he hoped Chisholm had more evidence than he’s released so far.

Chisholm addressed reporters for the first time in the matter after Heaggan-Brown made his initial court appearance De. 16. The district attorney said he understands Flynn’s perspective but stressed he made the charging decision based on the facts. He said he wasn’t trying to signal to minorities the criminal justice system can treat them fairly.

“A criminal prosecution isn’t the forum in which to send a message,” Chisholm said. “Is there a legitimate issue in terms of police-community relations? No question about it. And nothing exacerbates it more than police-related shootings. But in an individual case I have an ethical obligation to just look at those facts and … not to consider extraneous things like public sentiment. I believe strongly we’ve done a thorough job examining all the facts.”

According to the criminal complaint, Heaggan-Brown stopped Smith’s vehicle on Aug. 13. Smith fled on foot between nearby houses with a gun in his hand. Heaggan-Brown and his partner’s body cameras showed Smith fall to the ground, get up and raise his gun while facing Heaggan-Brown, the complaint said. Heaggan-Brown fired and hit Smith in the arm. The video shows Smith then threw his gun over a fence, although Heaggan-Brown told state agents he thought the gun flew out of Smith’s hand, the complaint said.
Heaggan-Brown then fired a second shot into Smith’s chest. Both shots were fired in less than two seconds.

Heaggan-Brown said he thought Smith was reaching for another weapon in his waistband so he fired the second time. The video, however, shows Smith reaching for his waistband after the second shot and that he was unarmed at that time, according to the complaint. Chisholm has refused to release the video, saying the footage is evidence.

The shooting sparked two nights of riots on Milwaukee’s predominantly black north side. Six businesses were burned along with a squad car. One man was shot but survived his wound. About 40 people in all were arrested in the three nights following Smith’s death.

Heaggan-Brown sat silently during his brief court appearance on Dec. 16. Wearing shackles and a yellow anti-suicide smock, he spoke only to say “yes” when court Commissioner Grace Flynn asked if he understood he would have to give a DNA sample.

The commissioner granted Chisholm’s request for $100,000 cash bail, calling the reckless homicide charge serious. Heaggan-Brown’s attorneys, Steven Kohn and Jonathan Smith, didn’t object.

Smith’s cousin, Thaddeus Ashford, told reporters after the proceeding that he didn’t think Heaggan-Brown deserved any bail and that the 60-year maximum sentence for reckless homicide is too light. He accused authorities of showing Heaggan-Brown favoritism, adding that he hates Heaggan-Brown and the entire state of Wisconsin.

“He can do 60 years and still have his life in prison … our cousin is still going to be buried,” Ashford said.

Kohn and Smith said outside court that they’re worried about Heaggan-Brown getting a fair trial given publicity surrounding the case. Smith said he planned to monitor comments on social media for potential evidence to support moving the trial out of Milwaukee County. Kohn added he didn’t think the body camera video should be released ahead of the trial.

The case that led to Heaggan-Brown’s firing stemmed from an incident the night of Aug. 14. According to a criminal complaint, Heaggan-Brown and another man went to a bar where they drank and watched television coverage of the unrest. The man told investigators that Heaggan-Brown bragged that he could do anything he wanted without repercussions. The man said he later woke up to find Heaggan-Brown sexually assaulting him.

Heaggan-Brown also was charged with soliciting two other people for sex several times since December 2015 and with sexually assaulting another unconscious person in July 2016 and photographing that victim naked.

His bail has been set at $100,000 cash in that case as well.

Officer who shot Sylville Smith charged with rape, sexual assault

The Milwaukee police officer who shot Sylville Smith, sparking riots in Sherman Park, has been charged with raping a man the night after the shooting.

Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, 24, was arrested Oct. 19. The alleged victim, unidentified in a criminal complaint, told police that Heaggan-Brown had sexually assaulted him after the two watched coverage of the riots on television together at a bar. Heaggan-Brown was off duty at the time.

An aspiring rapper, Heaggan-Brown fatally shot 23-year-old Sylville Smith on Aug. 13. Police said Smith was holding a gun when he was shot after a brief chase.

The two men knew each other from high school, according to Smith’s family.

Police said Heaggan-Brown is suspended and in custody and they have launched an internal investigation. Police Chief Ed Flynn told reporters during a news conference that nothing in Heaggan-Brown’s pre-hiring background check suggested he would be likely to engage in wrongdoing.

“It’s altogether awful,” Flynn said. “This individual has revealed his character in a way that did not come to light in the pre-hiring investigation.”

Heaggan-Brown’s attorney, Michael Steinle, didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Heaggan-Brown’s bail was set at $100,000. He’s set to appear at a preliminary hearing on Oct. 27.

According to the criminal complaint:

Heaggan-Brown took the victim to a bar late on the night of Aug. 14 where they drank heavily and watched TV as coverage of the protests aired. The victim told investigators that Heaggan-Brown bragged that he was the boss and that there were “no limitations” on how he lived and that he could do whatever he wanted “without repercussions.”

The victim told police the day after the alleged assault that he had trouble remembering everything that happened after they left the bar but that he felt drugged. He said he woke up to Heaggan-Brown sexually assaulting him.

The complaint said Heaggan-Brown took the man to St. Joseph’s Hospital early on Aug. 15. The officer told a security guard who helped him wheel the man inside that the man had had too much to drink and was “completely out, zonked out of his gourd.”

But when nurses began providing aid, the man “flipped out,” grabbed a security guard’s arm and exclaimed: “He raped me, he raped me,” indicating Heaggan-Brown.

Later that morning, Heaggan-Brown texted his mentor, Sgt. Joseph Hall, saying he had messed up “big time.”

“Need your help big time. … But need to handle this the most secret and right way possible,” the text read in part. The sergeant told investigators that Heaggan-Brown claimed the sex was consensual. Flynn said that Hall reported his contact with Heaggan-Brown to command staff but the sergeant is under internal investigation as well. Hall remains on duty.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of what that exchange was about,” Flynn said.

Using photographs and other data from the officer’s cellphone, the complaint said, investigators determined that Heaggan-Brown offered two other people money for sex several times — in December 2015 and in July and August of this year — and that he sexually assaulted another unconscious person in July, and photographed that victim naked without that person’s consent.

The charges include two felony counts of second-degree sexual assault, two misdemeanor prostitution counts and one felony count of capturing an intimate representation of a person without consent.

The head of Milwaukee’s police union said in a statement that the facts of the case will dictate the outcome.

“The MPA condemns all criminal behavior by any member of society, whether part of this organization or not,” the union’s president, Mike Crivello, said in the statement.

Heaggan-Brown joined the police department in July 2010 as an aide. Like Sylville Smith, Heaggan-Brown is black. The two men knew each other from high school, according to Smith’s family.

Heaggan-Brown was assigned to patrol the city’s heavily minority North Side.

Flynn has said that Sylville Smith was fleeing from a traffic stop when he was shot. Heaggan-Brown’s body camera showed that Smith was shot after he turned toward an officer with a gun in his hand, according to investigators.

Smith’s death sparked two nights of violence in the Sherman Park neighborhood, with several businesses burned. It also ramped up long-festering racial tension in Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice investigated Smith’s death and has turned the case over to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm for a charging decision. It’s not clear when a decision in that case will be made.

Flynn said none of the alleged sexual assault victims are connected to Smith’s family.


Koch brothers investing in state-level Wisconsin lawmakers

After apparently shrugging off the 2016 presidential election, Charles and David Koch are focusing their campaign dollars further down the ballot to maintain control over state governments, according to the Center for Media and Democracy;

CMD intern David Armiak reported that the billionaire brothers, who are the bedrock of the modern Republican Party, have already spent $400 million this year on influencing campaigns around the nation. Some of that money is believed to have gone to Verona Swanigan’s failed campaign to oust Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

Chisholm and other district attorneys conducted a “John Doe” probe of Koch-backed groups they suspected of illegally coordinating their campaign activities with those of Gov. Scott Walker during his recall race. Justices who’ve received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from those same Koch-backed groups ruled unconstitutional the law under which the probe was conducted. They ordered the case closed and, in what many called an unprecedented move, they ordered the files destroyed.

The DAs appealed the case the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to hear it.

As this election year heats up, Wisconsin is once again in the Koch brothers’ sites.

Below are candidates for state office — all Republicans —  in whom the industrialist titans have already invested this year, Amiak’s research revealed.

  • Joel Kitchens (WI-01) is receiving campaign help from Americans for Prosperity’s door-to-door operation. Kitchens also received $500 from KochPAC to Joel Kitchens for Assembly.
  • André Jacque (WI-02) received $500 from KochPAC to his Jacque for Assembly.
  • Majority Leader Rep. Jim Steineke (WI-05) received $500 from KochPAC to his Steineke for Assembly.
  • Gary Tauchen (WI-06) received $500 from KochPAC to Tauchen for Assembly.
  • Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Daniel Knodl (WI-24) received $500 from KochPAC to Knodl Assembly 24.
  • Mark Born (WI-39) received $500 from KochPAC to Born For Assembly
  • Michael Schraa (WI-53) received $500 from KochPAC to Michael Schraa for Assembly.
  • Mike Rohrkaste (WI-55) received $500 from KochPAC to Rohrkaste for Assembly.
  • Speaker of the House Rep. Robin Vos (WI-63) received $500 from KochPAC to his Friends & Neighbors of Robin Vos.
  • John Spiros (WI-86) received $500 from KochPAC to Spiros for Assembly.
  • John Macco (WI-88) received $500 from KochPAC to Friends of John Macco.
  • John Nygren (WI-89) received $500 from KochPAC to Taxpayers for Nygren.

Milwaukee DA Chisholm focuses re-election campaign on crime prevention innovations

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.”

Battling ‘toxicity’

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.

Scott Walker backers set on ousting DA John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm may soon appeal the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that ended the five-county “John Doe” criminal investigation into whether Gov, Scott Walker illegally coordinated with supposedly “independent” dark money groups during the 2011–2012 recall elections to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As prosecutors ready their case, the secret money advocates at the heart of the investigation are planning their next move.

Dark money maestro Eric O’Keefe, who sits on the board of Wisconsin Club for Growth, has declared that Chisholm “is not fit for public office” and “should not be allowed to serve out his term.” He has threatened to get him disbarred, and he has tried to get Walker to fire him.

O’Keefe’s high-powered, D.C. lawyers are suing Chisholm in federal court on behalf of Cindy Archer. She claims to be a victim of a renegade prosecutor. But she was a top Walker aide caught up in Chisolm’s investigation of a sordid bid-rigging scheme detailed by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Now O’Keefe and his associates appear to be prepping to go after Chisholm in a low-turnout primary, using the new, relaxed electoral laws they worked so hard to pass in Wisconsin. They’re also expected to unleash a flood of coordinated secret money and phony “issue” ads.

Scott Walker John Doe headed to divided SCOTUS

In July 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court not only shut down the investigation of potentially illegal coordination between Walker and dark money groups, they took the extraordinary measures of firing the Republican special prosecutor, who was hired to coordinate efforts at the behest of a bipartisan group of five District Attorneys. They threw up roadblocks to any appeal by, for instance, telling prosecutors they could not use expert, outside counsel to help with the filing.

Those actions were unprecedented and reminded many of the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon fired U.S. Attorney General Archibald Cox and his successors during the Watergate investigations.

“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” said special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.

“To somehow remove the lawyer representing one of the parties after the opinion (has been issued) is extraordinary,” said former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske.

The GOP-controlled legislature took action in 2015 to retroactively decriminalize the activities at the heart of the investigation. They made significant changes to Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, exempting political corruption from the John Doe statute and dismantling the nonpartisan Wisconsin elections board.

Now the three Democratic prosecutors are slated to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state Supreme Court ruling. At issue is the $10 million spent to elect the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the very same groups — Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce — that were under investigation in the John Doe probe.

According to the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caperton v. Massey, outsized spending in a judicial election could be significant enough to demand that judges recuse themselves. Schmitz asked both Justice David Prosser and Justice Michael Gableman to recuse themselves from the John Doe, but they refused. Furthermore, they offered no explanation for their refusal.

It’s unknown whether prosecutors will also appeal on the merits of the case. It is notable that coordination between independent groups and candidates is prohibited in most states and at the federal level. In 2016, a state legislator in Montana was convicted of breaking state law after engaging in similar coordination and, in 2015, a political operative working on a federal campaign was sentenced to 24 months in prison after being prosecuted under federal law.

Common Cause’s Jay Heck tells CMD that it makes sense that O’Keefe would go after Chisholm this election cycle. “The dark money groups want to protect the gains they have made in Wisconsin, changing the law to allow coordination between candidates and issue-ad groups. They want to stop an appeal before it goes any further.”

The prosecutors’ appeal is sure to have Wisconsin’s far-right yelling “partisan witch hunt” again. Yet, the reality is that Milwaukee DA John Chisholm has a long record of prosecuting Democrats for political corruption.

In 2010, Chisholm used the John Doe process to prosecute Democratic Milwaukee County Supervisor Toni Clark on felony charges related to the use of just $6,300 in campaign funds. Scott Walker didn’t call that a witch hunt; instead he said the case was “a reminder to all others in office that we must maintain the highest ethical standards.”

Dark money advocates take aim at John Chisholm in re-election race

Chisholm announced on April 18 that he would run for re-election. The primary is Aug. 9.

John Chisholm’s Democratic primary challenger is Verona Swanigan, an attorney and Milwaukee native who is new to electoral politics. Swanigan holds a law degree from Northern Illinois University (2005), and has practiced law independently with her own firm, Swanigan Legal Services, for about a decade. She registered her campaign in August 2015, and released a video announcing her candidacy in November that focused on reducing crime and addressing domestic violence.

Swanigan is an African American who has participated in community rallies calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police brutality. She calls herself a “conservative Democrat,” but her campaign is backed by the well-known GOP political operative Craig Peterson, who has worked closely with Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe on efforts to reshape Milwaukee politics in recent years.

According to news reports, Peterson has long been associated with Zigman Joseph Stephenson, a public relations firm, but has had financial troubles in recent years. Peterson has ties to former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was caught up in the “caucus scandal,” an earlier John Doe prosecution of campaign finance abuses, and who now works for big money groups trying to privatize public schools.

Peterson had reported $250 in monetary contributions and $1,681 worth of in-kind contributions to Swanigan’s campaign as of Dec. 31, 2015, a substantial part of the campaign’s $5,476 total take for the year. (Reports covering the first part of 2016 are not yet available.)

Earlier this spring, Peterson spearheaded an effort to reshape Milwaukee’s city government through a secretive group called “Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance,” which spent at least $200,000 on radio ads to influence mayoral and aldermanic races. The group, whose name strongly echoes that of the O’Keefe group “Citizens for Self-Governance,” has not been formally registered, and its funders have not been disclosed, but their impact is being felt.

“It really feels like we’re running against him, and not his so-called candidates,” Ald. Bob Bauman, a veteran Common Council member told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bauman’s opponent, who lost her race, was Peterson associate Monique Kelly, formerly known as Monique Taylor.

Using racial justice issues to advance a tea party candidate

In the 2014 Milwaukee County Sheriff’s race, a liberal dark money group spent big trying to unseat incumbent Sheriff David Clarke Jr. Clarke is a right-winger, a darling of Fox News and a Democrat in name only. The National Rifle Association rushed to his aid, and influential right-wing radio hosts urged Republicans in the county to turn out in the open Democratic primary.

Another unregistered Peterson group calling itself “Citizens for Urban Justice” also came to his aid, running radio ads attacking his opponent. In the ads, Monique Taylor presented herself as a community activist and listed the names of African-American men killed by Milwaukee police. “Now a lieutenant in that same police department wants to be our sheriff,” she said.

The ads had a big impact in the city’s predominantly African-American wards.

But Clarke, who is African-American, is famous for attacking the Black Lives Matter movement, which he has called “black slime.” He has never addressed police violence.

While he has been vague about the funding behind Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance and the city council takeover, Peterson has previously credited O’Keefe with arranging the funds to support Clarke. “Eric raised money for that campaign,” Peterson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “And I spent the money. That’s another benefit to our relationship: He’s good at raising it. I’m good at spending it.”

Peterson also worked with the Wisconsin chapter of David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for Responsible Government in an attempt to rally support against a modern streetcar project under development in Milwaukee. Instead of telling folks the truth — that the Kochs object to any type of clean energy transportation, including trolleys and electric cars — the Peterson crew slammed the trolleys for furthering segregation. Peterson paid for radio ads featuring the brother of police shooting victim Dontre Hamilton urging listeners to send Mayor Barrett and John Chisholm a message by writing letters opposing the streetcar.

While the ads stated they were “Paid for the Black Lives Matter Coalition,” Peterson paid for them himself, according to Urban Milwaukee.

With big money friends like O’Keefe and the Kochs, who are trying to turn secret election spending by wealthy special-interest groups into a principled fight for “constitutionally protected free speech,” Peterson is well positioned to unleash a tidal wave of phony “issue ads” at the last minute to sway a low-turnout election. In the August 2014 Milwaukee Democratic primary, less than 114,000 people voted. That compares with the 332,000 who voted in the November general election.

Stay tuned.

Jessica Mason contributed to this report. Learn more about Eric O’Keefe in the Progressive “Dark Money’s Front Man” and in Sourcewatch.

Analysis: Repeal of John Doe law makes prosecution of political corruption more difficult

A new Wisconsin law limiting secret John Doe probes doesn’t mean prosecutors’ days of pursuing political corruption are over. But their remaining tools have limitations that could make that task more difficult, especially in complex cases, legal experts say.

Prosecutors and investigators will have to turn to old-fashioned detective work or the state’s little-used grand jury procedure to build their cases, presenting problems for overworked district attorneys who may not have the time to dig through misconduct allegations outside of the John Doe process, they say.

“You don’t have a cop bringing in the case on a platter to you,” said Ray Dall’Osto, a Milwaukee defense attorney who described himself as leaning Democratic. “There’s going to be a tendency that these DAs are focused on immediate issues, like crimes of violence. The DAs are going to have to be more creative.”

Wisconsin is the only state with John Doe proceedings. They’re similar to grand jury proceedings. Prosecutors can present evidence in secret and compel witnesses to testify in secret before a judge.

Unlike a grand jury proceeding, where a prosecutor controls what he wants the jury to hear before the panel decides whether to indict, John Does are more like depositions, with the judge ultimately deciding whether a crime has been committed.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, has used the John Doe process at least twice against Republican Gov. Scott Walker. One probe focused on whether Walker’s aides engaged in illegal campaigning when he was Milwaukee County executive. The other looked into whether Walker’s 2012 gubernatorial recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups.

The first probe netted six convictions, including embezzlement by two staffers who served under Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive. The state’s right-wing Supreme Court majority halted the other investigation this summer — ruling, contrary to federal law, that candidates can coordinate with outside groups on “issue advocacy.” That term is political jargon for ads that praise or criticize a candidate’s position on an issue but don’t expressly ask voters to elect or defeat him/her, saying those communications amount to free speech.

The Republican justices who decided the case had received a total of at least $8 million in campaign contributions from the outside groups involved in the case, but they refused to recuse themselves.

The repeal of the John Doe law was sweet revenge for Republican lawmakers who feared their party would be hurt by the revelations of corruption. They branded the investigation a political witch-hunt, despite the involvement in it of Republicans.

In response, they fast-tracked a bill through the Legislature that bars prosecutors from using John Does to look into political misconduct, saying they want to protect lawmakers from such investigations. Prosecutors could still use John Does to investigate a broad swath of other major crimes, such as high-level drug dealing, homicides and racketeering.

Walker signed the bill into law in late October.

But political misconduct is now off-limits, raising the inevitable question: What are Republican lawmakers so afraid of? With their control of all branches of state government, including the Supreme Court, the move strips prosecutors of a crucial tool they need to combat corruption and renders politicians practically untouchable. How can the people of Wisconsin protect themselves against the corruption of absolute power, especially when the John Doe repeal is combined with other, similar GOP bills on a fast track, such as the annihilation of the Government Accountability Board (see page 4)?

Prosecutors have other methods to go after misconduct. They can pursue a case in the traditional way, with detectives coaxing witnesses to cooperate, cross-checking their stories, gathering documents, executing search warrants and issuing subpoenas. They also could turn to grand juries.

But those tactics have drawbacks.

Most prosecutors are overwhelmed with street crime and don’t have the expertise to tackle complicated, wide-ranging political misconduct cases outside of a John Doe fact-finding probe, said Dall’Osto, the defense attorney.

Without the John Doe’s secrecy, detectives’ work can become public much more easily. Prosecutors can ask a judge to seal a case record, but even approaching someone for an interview could prompt a witness to warn others to keep quiet or destroy evidence, said La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke.

“If you’re investigating the local town board for using public equipment to pave their driveway or something, you want to talk to the local contractors. They’ll tell everyone else the investigator was here and everyone will stop talking,” said Gruenke, a Democrat who has never been involved in a John Doe.

The grand jury process offers district attorneys secrecy and the ability to compel testimony, but that process is seldom used in Wisconsin, where district attorneys can charge people on their own.

State grand juries would be cumbersome — they require 17 people — and bringing one into court day after day requires space and money, said University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor David Schultz.

Still, other states have been able to pursue political corruption cases without the John Doe process. Wisconsin prosecutors still have considerable powers and there are more statutes on the books that can be broken now than ever before, said Donald Downs, a UW-Madison political science professor and an expert on criminal law and politics.

“I don’t mind making that process a little more subject to public scrutiny than it was,” Downs said. “It’s not going to be like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so much easier to commit political misconduct.”

But will it be?

This story uses interviews and information provided by The Associated Press.

Filings show that prosecutors believed Scott Walker committed a felony

A court filing shows investigators believed Republican Gov. Scott Walker committed a felony when he was Milwaukee County executive in relation to an office lease contract.

Walker, who is running for president, was never charged and neither were either of the other two people investigators named in the 2011 request for a search warrant, filed Wednesday as part of a lawsuit.

The warrant was issued in a John Doe probe that focused on longtime Walker aide Cindy Archer and others who were close to Walker during his tenure as Milwaukee County executive. Neither Archer nor Walker faced any charges in the overall investigation, known as a John Doe because it is largely conducted in secret; but six other Walker aides or associates were convicted on a variety of charges, including two for doing illegal campaign work in 2010.

Walker has long maintained that he did nothing wrong and that he was not a target of the investigation.

The Wednesday filing came in a federal lawsuit brought by Archer against prosecutors. She alleges that Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and investigators working for him violated her constitutional rights to free speech and association, and unreasonable search and seizure.

The filing included a copy of the 2011 request for a warrant to search the home of Archer and others being investigated.

In it, investigators said they believed there was probable cause that Walker, longtime Walker friend and campaign treasurer John Hiller and real estate broker Andrew Jensen committed felony misconduct in office in relation to the negotiation of a lease to house the county’s Department of Aging.

Prosecutors were looking into signs of misconduct and bid-rigging related to the competition to house the department in private office space. Investigators were also looking into donations Walker’s campaign received from officials with Mid American Building Services, which won a contract to clean county buildings.

All three of the bids under consideration for the department were ultimately rejected, and no one involved with the bids was ever charged with any wrongdoing.

Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick referred questions about the court filing to presidential campaign spokeswoman AshLee Strong. She did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

“People in Wisconsin and across the country deserve answers from Governor Walker on why law enforcement officials had probable cause to believe he committed felonies,” Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said.

The first John Doe investigation launched a second one focusing on whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with more than two dozen conservative groups. The Wisconsin Supreme Court last month ended the investigation, saying none of the campaign activity was unconstitutional.

A special prosecutor on Tuesday asked the court to reconsider that decision and place its ruling on hold, a move that signals he may take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The second investigation, like the first John Doe probe, was secret and many of the court filings have not been publicly released. The motion from special prosecutor Fran Schmitz was under seal pending a determination by the court as to whether it should be made public.

Schmitz did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday. Todd Graves, the attorney for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which filed a lawsuit challenging the probe that went to the Supreme Court, declined to comment.

Audio recording refutes Walker aide’s account of her arrest

A newly unsealed audio recording made by law enforcement officers as they raided the home of a former longtime aide to Gov. Scott Walker contradicts her description of how the search warrant was executed.

The audio file was submitted to federal court in response to a lawsuit Walker’s former aide Cindy Archer filed against prosecutors who led the John Doe investigation. The file was unsealed Monday and posted online Tuesday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which first reported on its contents.

Archer previously said police officers yelled at her, threw a search warrant at her and did not explain her constitutional rights during the 2011 raid.

But an officer can be heard taking more than five minutes reading Archer the warrant and later her Miranda rights. That officer and another one also engage in small talk with Archer and her partner about the house and home improvement projects. At various points, laughter can be heard.

The audio also reveals that Archer was permitted to step outside and have a cigarette and cup of coffee, contradicting her claim that she was not allowed to do that.

“I’m sort of doing you a courtesy by letting you get a coffee and smoke a cigarette just because I imagine being woken up at six in the morning by a bunch of people in black suits is not the way you want to wake up in the day,” Milwaukee County District Attorney investigator Aaron Weiss says to Archer.

“Thank you,” she says in response.

Archer’s attorney, David Rivkin, said via email he would issue a statement later Tuesday.

Archer has filed a lawsuit against Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and four of his assistants and investigators over the John Doe investigation that focused on her and others who were close to Walker when he served as a Milwaukee County executive.

She argues in the lawsuit that her civil rights were infringed upon by the raid on her home and seizing of personal emails. Archer is seeking unspecified damages for violation of her constitutional rights to free speech and association, and unreasonable search and seizure.

Walker, a Republican, is running for president. Chisholm is a Democrat.

Neither Archer nor Walker was charged in the investigation, but six other Walker aides or associates were convicted on a variety of charges, including two for doing illegal campaign work in 2010.

Weiss, the investigator, tells Archer in the recording that police were following the same procedures as they do in all such raids.

“Cops are trained to be paranoid,” he says.

Archer claimed in her lawsuit that officers threw the search warrant at her without giving her an opportunity to read it. In a National Review article, Archer said the lead investigator “towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.”

Nothing sounding like that was audible on the recording made public. Instead, Weiss can be heard explaining to Archer how the John Doe investigation works, what computers and phones they would be taking from the house and the process involved with copying and returning them.

The probe into Walker’s associates led to a second John Doe investigation into whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups. Conservative justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court last month ended that investigation, saying nothing being looked at by investigators was illegal. The deciding justices received a total of $8 million in donations from the groups under investigation.

After Walker was elected governor, Archer became deputy secretary of the Department of Administration. She currently works as chief information technology officer for the state public defender’s office.

Investigators: Walker’s office ‘obstructed’ probe of funds stolen from veterans charity

Investigators in the closed John Doe probe argued in a federal court brief filed on Friday that Scott Walker’s county executive staff “obstructed” its efforts to investigate missing donations to a veterans fund. The court brief includes recently unsealed investigative records.

Walker’s office did not respond to a message left Friday evening asking about the allegations that his office failed to cooperate in investigating the veterans-fund thefts. In 2012, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a Walker spokeswoman denied that his office was uncooperative with the probe, and Walker has denied the allegation in the past.

On Friday, chief investigator David Budde and investigator Robert Stelter reaffirmed that the John Doe investigation began after one of Walker’s top staff reported funds missing from “Operation Freedom,” an annual event held by Walker’s office to thank veterans for their military service.

The prosecutors maintained that the secret probe was necessary only because Walker’s office “was uncooperative and obstructed the District Attorney’s Office’s efforts to obtain documentation of the County’s receipt and disbursement of donations from Operation Freedom.”

“As a consequence, the District Attorney’s Office was forced to petition a John Doe proceeding in order to have legal mechanisms to obtain relevant documentation from the County Executive’s Office,” they argued.

Two Walker associates — former Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Russell and former veterans’ commission member Kevin Kavanaugh — were convicted of stealing more than $70,000 in donations from Operation Freedom. Four others, including Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, were convicted on a variety of other charges.

The filing in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee also revealed that Archer and Walker’s then-campaign treasurer John Hiller were under criminal investigation five years ago for their actions involving the proposed lease of office space by Milwaukee County that would have benefited real-estate clients of Hiller’s who had donated to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in October that Archer had given Hiller inside information about a pending bid for office space and that Walker was aware of the activity. That report was based on thousands of pages of emails released from the investigation, which ended in 2013

Milwaukee County ultimately decided not to rent the additional office space, and no one was ever charged in connection with the 2010 request for proposals.

“A Democratic district attorney who’s looked at this issue for two years 20 months ago … closed that case because he didn’t find any reason to go forward. I think that speaks volumes,” Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal at the time.

A new look

The documents filed Friday came in response to allegations Archer made in a lawsuit filed July 1 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court alleging that prosecutors led by Chisholm have engaged in a “continued campaign of harassment and intimidation” against Archer and other Walker supporters.

But the newly released documents reveal that the criminal investigation into the activities of Walker and his staff began before he was elected governor in 2010.

Archer’s lawsuit claims she was subjected to unwarranted investigation, including a Sept. 14, 2011, “raid” of her Madison home, as retaliation for her work with Walker on writing Act 10. Walker introduced the bill in February 2011 shortly after taking office.

But Budde and Stelter provided John Doe records unsealed July 10 by John Doe judge Neal Nettesheim showing the investigation into Archer’s activities began months before Walker’s surprise introduction of the bill that sparked weeks of protests at the Capitol.

The federal court filing on Friday also revealed new information about the now-closed investigation into the activities of Scott Walker and his staff when he was the Milwaukee County executive.

Although the investigation initially was launched to probe the missing veterans funds, prosecutors repeatedly enlarged it as they came across illegal campaign activity by Walker staffers, possible bid rigging and improper campaign contributions. Walker was never charged.

The records show Archer’s Milwaukee County office was searched in December 2010 for evidence that she had worked on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign while on county time and at her county office on “multiple occasions over a sustained period of time” when she served as director of the County Department of Administrative Services.

The filing also included a tape recording made of Archer’s interactions with officers during the search of her home, which was conducted by the FBI and members of the Milwaukee County and Dane County district attorneys’ offices. The recording was not available online late Friday.

In their brief, Budde and Stelter revealed that the Archer investigation involved not only possible bid rigging and suspected illegal campaign activity but also possible violations of the state open records law, which Walker secretly attempted to repeal retroactively while drafting the 2015–17 biennial budget. The brief said a criminal complaint was drafted naming Archer “and others” with two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office and one count of solicitation to commit misconduct in public office, but Chisholm’s office decided not to file it.

“While the District Attorney’s Office ultimately decided not to issue the draft criminal complaint, it reflects the good faith basis all defendants had in investigating Archer’s conduct for Milwaukee County,” the two argued.

The filing also showed that two weeks after the search of her home, Archer signed a proffer letter in which she agreed to provide information to the district attorney’s office of  “criminal activity in the Milwaukee area and elsewhere” in exchange for a promise that the interview would not be used directly against her in any criminal or civil proceeding.

The prosecutors being sued by Archer for alleged harassment want the case moved to U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. The prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman that the lawsuit belongs in federal court because the allegations involve alleged federal civil-rights violations.

A second John Doe investigation into coordination between Walker’s recall campaign and conservative political groups was halted in July by the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority, all four of whom had received a total of about $8 million in donations from the conservative groups under investigation. In Justice Michael Gableman’s majority ruling, he denied that coordination between campaigns and dark money groups was ever illegal, despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings to the contrary.

Jesse Jackson leads Chicago rally to protest decision in Dontre Hamilton shooting

During a Dec. 27 rally in Chicago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told relatives and supporters of Dontre Hamilton that he’ll continue to draw attention to the case and what he and other critics say is a pattern of injustice.

Hamilton, 31, was shot 14 times by ex-cop Christopher Manney in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Square last April. After reviewing the case, Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm declined to press charges against Manney, calling the homicide “justifiable.”

But U.S. Attorney James Santelle has announced that federal investigators will review the shooting to determine if Manney violated federal civil rights laws.

“We cannot stand by and let this happen without saying something,” Jackson told a crowd of about 200 people during a rally at his Rainbow PUSH Coalition Headquarters.

Hamilton’s family says he suffered from schizophrenia. His parents, two brothers and other relatives, along with several dozen supporters, joined Jackson at the Dec. 27 Chicago rally in hopes of bringing more widespread attention to the case.

“Dontre was a loving and concerned individual who didn’t deserve to die,” his brother, Nate Hamilton, said.

Hamilton and his supporters have held several rallies and demonstrations in the Milwaukee area since Chisholm’s decision not to prosecute Manney was announced.

Jackson pledged to “escalate this battle” by seeking federal intervention. He stressed that protests should be peaceful and that he doesn’t support violence.

He also called the shooting deaths of two police officers a week ago in New York a tragedy.

“We want to stop all killing,” Jackson said.

He added that he plans to travel to Milwaukee to hold a march and protest and to continue pressing police and lawmakers for change. Jackson didn’t say when those events would take place, but said it would be “soon.”

A Milwaukee police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.