Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee police have opened an internal investigation into an off-duty officer accused of assaulting two protesters and how responding officers handled the initial investigation at the scene.
The investigation comes as the responding officers face criticism for what some at the scene Sunday evening said was an illustration of “police-protect-police culture.” The officers, they argued, were trying to downplay the scuffle that left a woman with a concussion and a man with a broken camera lens worth $700.
“It was very clear that they were attempting to just sweep this under the rug and not have it go anywhere,” the protesters' attorney, Nicole Muller, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In a statement Wednesday to the Journal Sentinel, the police department pushed back against the criticism, saying the department’s internal affairs division — which later arrived at the scene Sunday evening — is “robust” and meets weekly with Chief Alfonso Morales to review the progress of internal investigations.
“The Milwaukee Police Department holds our members to the highest level of integrity,” the statement read. “Any suggestion that MPD unfairly protects its members is a myth, as evidenced by the number of disciplines, including dozens of discharges and lengthy suspensions, ordered under Chief Morales.”
The department also said the incident is “under review in its entirety, which includes reviewing the actions of all members associated with the incident.”
Police have provided few details about what occurred in the encounter between Officer Matthew Willmann and protesters Sunday night in the 1000 block of North Old World 3rd Street. But according to videos and witness accounts, a woman with Willmann threw a drink at protesters marching nearby. And as photographers LaTasha Lux and Sean Kafer approached Willmann, he swiped at their cameras. Lux’s camera hit her face.
As word of the scuffle gained traction on social media, some have called for the officer’s firing — including state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee. Willmann has not been fired or placed on leave, according to the department.
Brostoff went to the scene Sunday night after police had arrived. He called the way the officers handled the situation “disturbing." The officers refused to tell the alleged victims the accused man’s name and tried to persuade everyone to walk away and “forget” it happened, Brostoff said.
“Every step of this situation was really troubling,” he said.
Much of the tension centers around which party was the aggressor. The available video footage provides an incomplete picture of what happened citabefore the punches from Willmann. Police at the scene apparently focused on whether Willmann felt he had to defend himself from an approaching group of protesters.
As Lux and Kafer demanded Willmann be arrested, one of the responding officers told them that “I’m not issuing citations unless everyone gets a citation,” said Muller,the attorney.
According to Muller, a supervising detective gave officers orders not to issue anyone involved a citation. But responding officers did give Lux and Kafer disorderly conduct tickets. When Muller spoke to police officials Tuesday, they were “shocked” to learn the tickets were issued, she said. Police then voided the tickets, according to the department.
Muller was frustrated that her clients — victims of an assault, she said — would be “treated so horribly” and their stories would be doubted. Police initially weren’t writing any reports about the incident, Muller said.
She contrasted the situation to the usual way police would handle a woman whose boyfriend had punched her, causing a concussion.
“The cops would have come and put her boyfriend … into handcuffs, booked him for disorderly conduct, domestic abuse, and would have referred it to the DA’s office right away,” Muller said. “That didn’t happen here at all.”
In such cases, the police chief typically decides on any discipline once the internal investigation is complete.
Willmann has been with the department since 2001 and was paid more than $98,000 in 2018, according to the most recent city salary data available.
He could not be reached by phone Wednesday for comment.