Journal Sentinel: Sterling Brown arrest was discussed before police chief made marketing video, emails show

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Friday, December 21, 2018 | comments
The day before the Milwaukee Police Department released body camera footage of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown being arrested and tased, Chief Alfonso Morales released a marketing video introducing himself to the community.
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By: Talis Shelbourne

The day before the Milwaukee Police Department released body camera footage of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown being arrested and tased, Chief Alfonso Morales released a marketing video introducing himself to the community.

Producing it cost taxpayers $8,200.

Morales contends the timing of its release was a coincidence.

But emails obtained by the Journal Sentinel show one of the goals of the project was to ward off public criticism about the arrest of Brown, who was taken to the ground and tased after he parked illegally outside a Walgreens store at 2 a.m. Jan. 26.

Morales took over as interim chief Feb. 15; the position was later extended through 2020.

In an interview, Morales said the purpose of the marketing video, posted online and sent to reporters in May, was to “promote the law enforcement image.” He admitted the arrest of Brown was part of the discussion.

“The video is a much bigger picture than that incident with Sterling Brown,” he said. “But I will tell you, we talked about Sterling Brown because it was going hand-in-hand.”

In the end, no references to Brown were included in the video. Nonetheless, the timing of its release resulted in criticism.

"Nobody cared about the video and everybody cared about, you know, the new hot story," Morales said. "If you watch the news, it's like, look at what the Milwaukee Police Department is trying to do to cover up for something else. And that's sad."

The video
At the time of its release, Mayor Tom Barrett, who was featured in the promotional video, said it was "not in any way" related to the Brown footage.

Brown’s attorney, Mark Thomsen, finds that hard to believe.

"When I first saw chief’s message to the community, I believed it was an attempt to soften the blow the city and the department would take upon release of the Sterling Brown video," he said. "I certainly believe that the chief knew that the community, and the African-American community, in particular, would be outraged."

According to emails turned over to the Journal Sentinel in response to a records request, marketing firm CI Design originally pitched a series of videos to the Police Department. The first, slated to be released about a month before the Brown footage, would brand Morales and "the new direction of the police force." Another video called for Morales to explicitly address Brown’s arrest and explain how the department planned to improve.

Removing all references to Brown from the video project was not an attempt to downplay the incident, Morales told the Journal Sentinel, but rather to refocus the community's attention on what the department does right.

"The majority of the time, we have positive interactions, we do good things — why should I cloud it with the negative?" he asked. "If I would've included Sterling Brown on this, nobody looks at that video as this is the new Milwaukee Police Department."

The cost
An initial estimate from CI Design for a series of videos promoting the Police Department and its new leadership came in at about $25,000.

The cost of the single video that was ultimately produced was $8,263.66, according to invoices received in response to the Journal Sentinel’s records request.

Morales said the money was available because two open positions had not been filled for six months.

He said he hopes to produce more videos to publicize the Police Department's positive role in the community.

"That's going to be something that is going to be gone eventually," he said of Brown's arrest. "But the Milwaukee Police Department is going to be here and we have to move forward."

Footage of Brown's arrest
The release of the body camera footage of Brown’s arrest sparked immediate criticism of officers' handling of the incident.

In it, police appeared confrontational from the start.

Brown initially gave his name and showed an identification card. The officer who first encountered him apparently did not recognize him as a player with the Bucks. The officer called for assistance. Half a dozen squad cars showed up. 

After the additional officers arrived, the situation became more tense, with police standing in a circle around Brown before yelling at him to take his hands out of his pockets — now.

Brown, who had taken his hands in and out of his pockets several times before that, replied: "Hold on. I've got stuff in my hands."

Police swarmed him, shouting "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Brown yelled in pain as he was shocked.

Several community leaders said they were disturbed by the footage, including state Rep. David Bowen; Markasa Tucker, director of the African American Roundtable; Reggie Moore, director of the Office of Violence Prevention; and Darryl Morin, a prominent member of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The Bucks organization described the officers' actions as "shameful and inexcusable."

U.S. Rep Gwen Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, called the officers' actions "an appalling blow to public trust," saying she would push for federal legislation to mandate de-escalation training for police nationwide. 

Officers disciplined
While Morales was not yet chief at the time of Brown’s arrest, he was responsible for investigating excessive force complaints against the officers involved.

The day he released the body camera video, Morales convened a news conference in which he said officers “acted inappropriately” and would be disciplined. However, he did not release the names of the officers or the specific penalties they faced.

Ultimately, three people were suspended, including two supervisors and the first officer who confronted Brown. Eight others were assigned remedial training.

Officer Erik Andrade was later fired for violating the department's social media policy when he made racist posts about Brown's arrest. He lost his appeal before the Fire and Police Commission, which upheld his termination Wednesday. 

As for Brown, he "hopes and imagines a better Milwaukee," according to his attorney. 

Until then, the department can begin repairing its relationship with the community by admitting full responsibility in Brown's civil rights lawsuit, Thomsen said.

Depositions in the suit are set to begin soon, he said, and he plans to ask department officials about the videos.

The timeline
Jan 26: Sterling Brown is tased and arrested at 2 a.m. for horizontally parking in a handicapped spot outside Walgreens.

Feb 15: Alfonso Morales begins serving as interim Milwaukee police chief.

May 2: The first email regarding a video proposal from CI Design is sent to Sgt. Sheronda Grant with the subject line, "Chief Morales Messaging Video."

May 15: The Milwaukee Police Department receives an invoice of $4,131.83 from CI Design.

May 22: Grant distributes the video via mass email.

May 23: The Police Department releases body camera footage of Brown's arrest. Morales says several officers would be disciplined because they "acted inappropriately." He does not name the officers or give the specifics of the discipline.

May 25: The Police Department receives a second invoice of $4,131.83 from CI Design.

June 19: Brown files a federal civil rights suit against the Police Department.

Oct 12: The Police Department releases emails regarding the video's production in response to an open records request from the Journal Sentinel.

Dec. 18: After an appeal hearing, the Fire and Police Commission upholds Officer Erik Andrade's termination.

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Sterling Brown arrest was discussed before police chief made marketing video, emails show

 
 
 

Sterling Brown arrest was discussed before police chief made marketing video, emails show

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