Baldwin and Moore call for Wauwatosa PD civil rights inquiry


Protesters marked the ground in front of Wauwatosa Town Hall with chalk displaying a variety of messages. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Growing concerns about the tactics used by the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) during the 2020 protests have reached senior Wisconsin government officials. On Wednesday, MP Gwen Moore and Senator Tammy Baldwin called for a civil rights investigation of WPD. The couple’s concerns were outlined in a brief letter that was sent to Deputy Attorney General Kristin Clarke of the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ).

Moore and Baldwin sent their request after receiving information from lawyer Kimberley Motley, who has initiated several lawsuits against the town of Wauwatosa since last year. His letter to Baldwin and Moore summarized the problems uncovered over the past few months.

Congressman Gwen Moore
Congressman Gwen Moore

“The request comes from three families who each had a loved one shot and killed by a police officer in the department,” wrote Baldwin and Moore. “These Wisconsin families have made serious allegations of misconduct, including police practices that allegedly targeted individuals because of their race and / or their involvement in activities protected by the First Amendment.”

The latter item is particularly timely, as more details recently emerged on a list the ministry kept last year. Although originally called a “protest list” by the WPD crime analyst who created it, WPD has since waived the label. WPD said it was a list of suspects, victims, witnesses or potential sources of information related to the protests. It documents the names and personal details of elected officials, activists from several groups in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, and even people who rarely attended the protests. It also includes this reporter, the only accredited reporter known to be on the list. WPD shared the list with the Milwaukee Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

The role of the police in our society has come under scrutiny since the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in May 2020. The Local Police is an ongoing series analyzing the culture, tactics and actions of departments large and little ones from Wisconsin. If you have a story to share about your local police, contact reporters Isiah Holmes and Henry Redman at [email protected] and [email protected]

Motley’s letter highlights a variety of tactics the department used against protesters over the past year. As the marches through Wauwatosa continued into August, the department began issuing large bills to protesters, sometimes totaling more than $ 1,300. While some were mailed to walkers identified by video and social media, others were personally delivered by agents.

Open case requests released by the department in January also showed that some people who had never been fined or arrested were listed as “arrested” with booking numbers on different days. The “ghost arrests,” as they were sometimes called by protesters, raised fears that people would be subjected to fraudulent arrest entries. WPD replied that the entries were the result of the software used to manage the reports.

During the October curfew, WPD used some of its more brutal tactics. During the second night of the curfew, the mother and sister of one of those killed by an officer from Wauwatosa were arrested by members of WPD’s Special Operations Group (SOG) and a US Marshals Task Strength. Unbeknownst to elected officials, including Baldwin, the Marshals had been deployed to Wauwatosa and Kenosha in the same manner as they were in Portland, Oregon earlier that year. Tracy Cole, was hospitalized for injuries sustained during his arrest. Her daughter, Taleavia, was taken into custody and her phone confiscated by Wauwatosa officers.

Senator Tammy Baldwin speaks at the 2016 press conference
Senator Tammy Baldwin
Photo by Senate Democrats via Flickr 2016 CC BY 2.0

SOG has several functions in WPD, including cell phone data mining and analysis operations. Many phones were taken during curfew, but few have been detained for as long as Taleavia’s. His phone was only returned after 20 days following legal actions filed by Motley. Taleavia said her phone showed signs of tampering. The ministry said it had not analyzed data on any of the seized phones.

Emails obtained through requests for open records later showed that the phones had been transferred to WPD’s so-called nerd lab, or the computer forensics unit. The emails were sent between SOG detectives, who noted that Taleavia’s phone had been separated from a batch of other WPDs destined to return. It is still unclear exactly what the ministry did to the phones it said were initially mistaken for “electronic evidence.”

A line of officers in riot gear and militarized blocks a street in Wauwatosa during the October curfew.  The tear gas was still thick in the air.  (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
A line of officers in riot gear and militarized blocks a street in Wauwatosa during the October 2020 curfew. Tear gas was still thick in the air. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

SOG members also created a list of “higher value targets” that included Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride. However, this document was subsequently denounced by WPD and The detective a written reprimand was placed in his file after Wisconsin Examiner reported its existence.

Baldwin’s office said Wisconsin Examiner that the allegations against WPD “deserve a thorough examination by the Department of Justice” so that they can decide whether a civil rights investigation is warranted. Other concerns were also raised in Motley’s letter to the two members of Congress. This included another email in which a WPD sleuth and president of a union said the union’s attorney suggested raising the costs of the costs of open cases to prevent disclosure of information about officers.


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Wauwatosa is a region haunted by A story redlining, segregation and restrictive housing covenants prohibiting the sale of single-family homes to black residents. Wauwatosa, a town of 49,000, has a black population of less than 6%. However, according to Motley’s letter, in 2018, African Americans accounted for over 82% of WPD arrests and 60% of traffic stops between 2015 and 2017.

Lawyer Kimberley Motley speaks to the press outside Wauwatosa Town Hall after the meeting ends.  (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Lawyer Kimberly Motley speaks to the press outside Wauwatosa Town Hall after the meeting ends. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Moore, who was recently chosen to a new select committee on the red line and racial disparities, explained why she thinks a civil rights inquiry is important. “The federal government has a positive role to play in ensuring that the citizens of our country are safe from police misconduct and abuse,” Moore said. Examiner from Wisconsin. “That is why I joined with Senator Baldwin in calling on the Department of Justice to consider the residents’ request for multiple alarming allegations of misconduct by the Wauwatosa Police Department. These allegations merit careful examination.

State Senator Lena Taylor, whose district includes parts of Wauwatosa, is another elected official who is increasingly concerned about the WPD. Taylor was particularly concerned about the implications of the protest list. “The only way for us to know what’s going on – quite frankly – is if there are individuals who are engaged in the media,” she said. “And I’ve been in protests and been there and been part of them, so that you can preserve the right of the people to be able to dissolve in America. This is what makes us America. She called the list “somewhat disturbing,” but said she was encouraged by the tone of WPD’s new police chief.

auwatosa police squad.  (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Wauwatosa Police Team. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

The new chef, James MacGillis, begins Monday. He is well aware of community concerns about how the WPD gathered and shared intelligence reports on protesters last year. MacGillis aims to focus on repairing the ministry’s relationship with the community. His approach and tone is a far cry from MacGillis predecessor Barry Weber, who served as leader for over 30 years and ended his tenure targeting protests and their supporters.

Taylor said of MacGillis’ statements: “It’s a mindset that wants to promote the creation of something different. Nonetheless, she added, “talking doesn’t cost a lot. So we have to wait and see. … But I have to say I think hearing leadership that talks about wanting to grow up to be something different, I think it’s a good thing.

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