Madison, Wisconsin – The supervisory board demoted Milwaukee police chief Alfonso Morales after asking how he handled a number of incidents, including ordering officers to shoot tear gas and pepper spray at protesters demonstrating George Floyd’s death.
The city’s fire and police commission voted unanimously Thursday night to dismantle Morales as captain after three and a half years in office.
The boss’s lawyer, Franklin Gimble, says Morales’ relations with the commission are deteriorating after he refused the president’s request to fire an officer involved in the arrest of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown in January 201
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Morales joined the department in Milwaukee in 1993 and was appointed chief in February 2018.
“His behavior is invincible, fraught with ethical omissions and wrong decisions, which makes him contrary to someone who has the privilege of running the Milwaukee Police Department,” said Commissioner Raymond Robakowski.
The board appointed Assistant Chief of Police Michael J. Brunson Sr. as acting chief.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Thursday night that he was outraged by the commission’s actions and that Morales should be given a chance to respond to the group’s directives.
“The discussion about this decision tonight was completely devoid of transparency. “The action taken by the Commission tonight was not good governance,” Barrett said.
The decision comes when Wisconsin’s largest police force is battling an attack of gun violence and plans the security of a reduced Democratic National Convention.
A number of police chiefs across the country have left their jobs as pressure presses to rethink the U.S. police after Floyd’s death, including Erica Shields in Atlanta, Jamie Resch in Portland, Oregon, and William Smith in Richmond, Washington.
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The mayor of Milwaukee called for the commission to be delayed, but Gimble said the odds seemed set against the chief.
“I don’t know how he has supporters (in the committee),” Gimbel said. “It seems like a cumulative sense that they want to dump the man.”
Gimble declined to comment to the Associated Press after the meeting.
Morales is Latin, and most of the commissioners are black. His relationship with the board deteriorated after he was appointed to the post in February 2018.
Gimble said the problems began when officers arrested Brown in January 2018 for illegal parking. Officers raided Bucks’ guards and used a stunning pistol on him when he did not take his hands out of his pockets. Commission chairman Stephen Devogas, who is Black, told Morales to fire one of the officers involved, but Morales refused, the lawyer said.
“It got stressful from there,” Gimble said. “DeVugas sees him as a player on the team.”
In February, the Milwaukee Police Association, which represents full-time employees, filed an ethics complaint against DeVougas, claiming to accompany a real estate entrepreneur during an interview with police who suspected the entrepreneur of sexual assault. DeVougas practices real estate law for the entrepreneur’s business. The police association claims that DeVugas’ presence during the interview was an abuse of his position as chairman of the commission. City Ethics Council is investigating.
Fast forward to May and June, when Milwaukee police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters demonstrating Floyd’s death. Floyd, who was Black, died on Remembrance Day in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes.
The decision to use tear gas and pepper spray drew criticism from Democratic Mayor Barrett. In July, the Commission banned the police department from using tear gas, urging a number of departments across the country to help the security convention withdraw its support.
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On July 20, the commission ordered Morales to produce copies of records related to numerous incidents, including the decision to tear up protesting gases and black pepper, Brown’s arrest and the arrest of the Black activist in June on suspicion of burglary. The panel also asked Morales to develop standards for community policing, develop a discipline matrix to clarify how employees are disciplined, and develop a policy requiring employees to wear face masks during a pandemic.
“We are in the midst of an urgent race and police report in this country,” the commission said in a statement Monday. “Only with transparency, accountability and truth will we move forward as a society. This discussion can make some uncomfortable and frighten others.”
None of the commissioners, including DeVougas, returned messages on Thursday.
The commission gave Morales a week to respond to some of the demands and threatened to discipline him or fire him if he did not comply. Gimble said those expectations were ridiculous; he noted that the commission had given Morales’ predecessor, Ed Flynn, 50 days to respond to a similar request for information on the department’s prosecution policy.
The police department on Wednesday declared the orders vague, invalid and possibly illegal. The department noted that the orders were not approved during an open meeting and the requests sought information from still open criminal and internal investigations.
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The orders could also violate a 2018 agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union because of the stop policies, because the department will have to release confidential information, which it shares with a consulting group that monitors compliance with the agreement, the agency said.
“The attempt (orders) to paint a picture that the MPD is inconsistent with or completely disobedient to the FPC,” the department said in a statement. “The way the FPC does business is alarming.”
Barrett threw himself into the brawl on Wednesday, sending a letter to the commission calling for a “proper review” of the orders and to the commission to remove DeVougas as chairman, as he is under investigation.