Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown filed suit against the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department in federal court on Tuesday, arguing that members of the department violated his civil rights by using a Taser on him in a wrongful arrest stemming from a parking incident in January.
Mark Thomsen, Brown’s attorney, filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, following through on a course of action discussed last month by alleging excessive force and unlawful arrest in the incident, which took place outside a Walgreens in the early hours of Jan. 26. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the defendants named in Brown’s suit include the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, Sgt. Sean Mahnke, Sgt. Jeffrey S. Krueger (who, according to the suit, has previously “been involved with at least eight Use of Force incidents involving his Taser,” including four where no charges were ever brought against the victim), and Officers Joseph J. Grams, Bojan Samardzic, James P. Collins, Cristobal Martinez Avila, Erik A. Andrade and Jason P. Jensen.
The suit argues that “violence by law enforcement against African American people in the United States is a national crisis,” and a particularly acute issue in Wisconsin. The filing cites research indicating that unarmed African Americans are shot by police nearly 16 times more frequently than unarmed white people are, the second-highest ratio in the U.S. and more than three times the national average, and details the Milwaukee Police department’s history of “executing arrests, false arrests, and/or otherwise violating person’s equal protection rights.”
Why was Sterling Brown arrested?
Milwaukee police initially reported that, while “conducting a business check” at around 2 a.m., they encountered a vehicle parked across two disability parking spaces” in the Walgreens’ parking lot, and that while speaking with and giving a citation to a “22-year-old male,” later identified as Brown, he became combative.
“During the incident an electronic control device was deployed and the man was arrested,” Milwaukee Police Sgt. Tim Gauerke told Yahoo Sports in a statement. “The circumstances of the incident and the use of force are currently being reviewed by the Department.”
That review, which included the viewing of police body camera footage of the incident, revealed that Brown’s actions did not warrant a criminal charge for resisting arrest or obstructing an officer. That footage made its way to the desk of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who said in May — four months after officers Tased Brown — that he “definitely [had] concerns” about the behavior of the officers involved based on what he saw.
Footage shows police officers acted inappropriately
One day later, the department released the footage. It shows an officer initiating a verbal confrontation with Brown, at least five other backup vehicles arriving to handle a traffic citation, and officers surrounding Brown because he didn’t take his hands out of his pockets immediately as ordered, taking him to the ground and eventually Tasing him.
WISN-TV in Wisconsin later uncovered more footage from Brown’s arrest, showing an officer stepping on his ankle while he was pinned face down on the ground and handcuffed, and others expressing concern about Brown’s treatment only after realizing that he plays for the Bucks, meaning there would likely be a “media firestorm” from which they’d need to protect themselves. Additional footage released Monday by WISN showed one of the officers surrounding Brown before his Tasing briefly drawing his gun.
“Sterling Brown could be dead,” his lawyer, Thomsen, told WISN. “That gun could have gone off, and it would be a whole different story.”
Video of Brown’s arrest sparks controversy
Chief Morales apologized to Brown for the incident, saying members of his department “acted inappropriately” and “were recently disciplined.” Three officers (Grams, Krueger and Mahnke) reportedly received suspensions ranging from two days to just over two weeks; eight others are reportedly “undergoing remedial training in professional communications.” Following the release of the multiple videos of Brown’s detention, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission has ordered a complete audit and review of the arrest, what precipitated it and its aftermath.
The Milwaukee Police Association, the union representing rank-and-file officers, decried an alleged lack of support from civic leaders, shifting blame for what happened to Brown away from the officers involved and toward “drastic understaffing.” The city of Milwaukee has paid “roughly $22 million in police misconduct lawsuits since 2015,” according to the Journal Sentinel, with taxpayers footing the bill.
‘What is wrong with these people, man?’
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, Brown shares more details of his side of the story than appear in the videos. He recounts immediate hostility from Grams, the first officer on the scene, and said that when he asked why there were so many officers devoting so much time and attention to a parking issue, Krueger replied, “Because you’re bothering me,” and said that Brown “should be in handcuffs.”
According to the suit, things escalated when, after Grams returned to Brown’s car, the alarm went off, leading Brown to reach into his pocket to grab his keys to turn it off. After that, the officers surrounded Brown, looked into his car, and saw what appeared to be paper targets with bullet holes in them inside the car. That led them to ask whether Brown had a concealed-carry weapon permit; after he said he didn’t, they shouted for him to take his hands out of his pockets and, mere seconds later, grabbed him and began to take him down to the ground.
There, with a knee in his groin, pressure on his neck and six officers having him pinned on the ground, Brown heard Mahnke call out an order to Tase him; shortly thereafter, Samardzic sent “thousands of volts of electricity” through Brown’s body.
It didn’t end there. From the suit:
87. Shortly after Defendants threw Mr. Brown to the ground, Defendant Grams used his right foot to stomp on Mr. Brown’s leg. Then after the Taser was shot into Mr. Brown’s back, Defendant Grams proceeded to stomp on Mr. Brown’s leg with both feet.
88. Defendant Grams stood on Mr. Brown’s leg for an extended period of time while Mr. Brown remained on the ground.
89. After Mr. Brown was unlawfully tackled, tased, and cuffed over an alleged parking incident, Defendant Grams commented to Defendant Krueger, “[i]f the guy hadn’t been such a dick it would have been ‘hey, have a nice day!’ you know? But then I thought, okay he’s being an ass, he’s trying to hide something.”
90. At 02:11:38 AM, Defendants cuffed Mr. Brown, while he was face-down on the cold, wet pavement.
91. As he stood at the window of one of the police vehicles, Defendant Grams said to himself, “what is wrong with these people, man.”
92. Starting at 02:13:49 AM, and continuing until 02:16:41 AM, Defendant Collins stood on Mr. Brown’s left ankle for about 2¾ minutes, while Mr. Brown remained cuffed, laying on the cold wet pavement.
93. Minutes after being tased, Mr. Brown asked the officers, “all this for what?”
94. Defendant Collins responded, “Because you’re being stupid now.”
Officer jokes about doing the same thing to J.R. Smith
According to the suit, after the officers learned Brown played for the Bucks, they allowed him to sit up and eventually stand up, before taking him to the hospital for evaluation and treatment of wounds to his face (where he’d been forced to the ground) and back (which had been punctured by the Taser). Brown was later transferred to Milwaukee County Jail, where he was held until his release later that day; while he was in custody, Andrade, one of the officers who responded to Grams’ call for backup, went on Facebook and posted, “Nice meeting Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks at work this morning! Lol#FearTheDeer”
That was far from the only objectionable thing Andrade had posted on his Facebook page related to race, NBA players, “the epidemic of the black community lying on police,” and African Americans and mass incarceration. Andrade also apparently made the eyebrow-raising decision to reference his role in Brown’s arrest and subsequent Tasing while watching Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, which saw Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith commit a costly late-game error, suggesting that Smith deserved the same treatment that the MPD gave Brown:
144. On May 31, 2018, Earl Joseph “J.R.” Smith III, known widely as J.R. Smith, played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Nearing the end of regulation, Mr. Smith rebounded a missed free throw while the game was tied, and let the clock run out to force overtime. The Cavaliers lost in overtime.
145. On information and belief, after Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Defendant Andrade once again took to Facebook to explain that he believed Mr. Smith deserved to be punished for this performance:
146. Defendant Andrade’s post is an admission that he and other Defendant officers are allowed to engage in unlawful attacks and arrests of African Americans without justification and then relish such events without any fear of real discipline.
Sterling Brown aims to push police, politicians for accountability
The Bucks called the officers’ actions “shameful and inexcusable,” and offered their public support for Brown “as he shares his story and takes action to provide accountability” … which is why he filed suit on Tuesday.
“Everybody thought I was combative, thought I was being aggressive, but I get mad every time I watch it, because I was defenseless pretty much,” Brown told Robin Roberts of ABC’s “Good Morning America” last month. “I couldn’t do nothing, and they still did what they did. The video shows justice of what really happened. It’s a body cam, it’s close, and you can hear my screaming or whatnot.
“It’s tough every time I watch it, but that’s why I’m here doing what I’m doing legally. That’s why I’m speaking to you, just to draw attention to it and try to be a voice and try to help as many people as I can in that situation.”
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