MADISON - An oversight board is considering firing Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales after he ordered officers to use tear gas to break up protests over George Floyd's death, the last straw for members upset with how the chief has handled incidents since the arrest of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown in 2018.
The city's Fire and Police Commission was set to decide Morales' fate at a meeting Thursday evening. The decision could leave Wisconsin's largest police department without a leader as the city grapples with a surge in gun violence and plans security for a scaled-down Democratic National Convention.
Milwaukee's mayor has urged the commission to slow down, but Morales' attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said the odds appeared to be stacked against the chief.
"I'm unaware of him having any supporters (on the commission)," Gimbel, said. "There seems like a cumulative sense that they want to dump the guy."
Morales is Latino and the majority of the commissioners are Black. His relationship with the board has deteriorated since it named him to the post in February 2018, particularly over questions about how the department has policed Black communities.
Gimbel said problems began when officers arrested Brown for parking illegally in January 2018. Officers swarmed the Bucks guard and used a stun gun on him when he didn't remove his hands from his pockets. The commission's chairman, Steven DeVougas, who is Black, told Morales to fire one of the officers involved but Morales refused, the attorney said.
"From there it got stressful," Gimbel said. "DeVougas viewed him as not being a team player."
In February, the Milwaukee Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, filed an ethics complaint against DeVougas alleging he accompanied a real estate developer during an interview with police who suspected the developer of sexual assault. DeVougas practices real estate law for the developer's business. The police association argued DeVougas' presence during the interview was a misuse of his position as commission chairman. A city ethics board is investigating.
Fast forward to May and June, when Milwaukee police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters demonstrating over Floyd's death. Floyd, who was Black, died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly eight minutes.
The decision to use tear gas and pepper spray drew criticism from Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett. The commission in July banned the police department from using tear gas, prompting a number of departments from across the state slated to help with convention security to rescind their support.
The commission on July 20 ordered Morales to produce reams of records related to multiple incidents, including the decision to tear gas and pepper spray protesters, Brown's arrest and the June arrest of a Black activist on suspicion of burglary. The panel also demanded Morales draft community policing standards, develop a discipline matrix to clarify how officers are disciplined and draft a policy requiring officers to wear face masks during the pandemic.
"We are in the midst of an urgent overdue reckoning on race and policing in this country," the commission said in a statement Monday. "Only with transparency, accountability and truth will we move on as a society. This discussion may make some uncomfortable, and may bluntly scare others."
None of the commissioners, including DeVougas, returned messages Thursday.
The commission gave Morales a week to respond to some of the requests and threatened to discipline or fire him if he didn't comply. Gimbel has said those expectations are ridiculous; he noted the commission gave Morales' predecessor, Ed Flynn, 50 days to respond to a similar request for information on the department's pursuit policy.
The police department Wednesday blasted the orders as vague, invalid and possibly illegal. The department noted the orders weren't approved during an open meeting and the requests seek information from still-open criminal and internal investigations.
The orders also could violate a 2018 settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union over stop-and-frisk policies because the department would have to release confidential information it has been sharing with a consultant group monitoring compliance with the settlement, the department said.
"The (orders) attempt to paint a picture that MPD has been non-compliant or outright insubordinate with the FPC," the department said in a statement. "The manner in which business is being conducted at the FPC causes alarm."
Barrett, the mayor, dove into the fray on Wednesday, sending a letter to the commission calling for an "orderly review" of the orders and the commission to remove DeVougas as chairman since he's under investigation.
WASHINGTON - Many American workers applying for unemployment benefits after being thrown out of a job by the coronavirus face a new complication: States' efforts to prevent fraud have delayed or disrupted their payments.
MADISON - The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature on Wednesday appealed a federal court ruling that allows for absentee ballots to be counted up to six days after the Nov. 3 presidential election in the battleground state.
MERRILL - Grampa's Farm in Merrill like a lot of businesses have had to adapt because of COVID.
"We've expanded our hours and we've expanded our play areas to include more things and outdoor space," said Jered Severt, operator at Grampa's Farm.
But change is something that Severt and his family are used to.
"The dairy industry just wasn't working out for the smaller farmer," Severt said.
Severt and his family have had their barn for over 100 years.
"When I was born I came back to this farm," Severt said. "When my father was born he came back to this farm. My grandfather and his father and the previous father have all worked the soil here and have been a part of Grampa's Farm."
And without all the help from his family and friends, he knows none of this would be possible.
"It still continues to be family run but friends and neighbors," Severt said. "A lot of people working together to make this happen for a lot of other people."
For more information on Grampa's Farm check out their website.
MILWAUKEE - Demonstrations in Wisconsin over a grand jury's decision not to indict Louisville, Kentucky police officers in Breonna Taylor's death were relatively peaceful with protesters in Milwaukee blocking traffic on an interstate.
MADISON - On September 22nd the United States hit a staggering 200,000 COVID-19 deaths. Wisconsin alone has 100,000 cases. The high numbers of deaths and cases can be lowered by modifying our behaviors and by wearing a mask properly.
There have been revisions to the mask mandate. Originally, it was said that only people not feeling well are required to wear it. It was changed when it was discovered that just talking could cause an outbreak.
Dr. Jeff Pothof of UW Madison Health spoke about how not wearing a mask can affect your long term health.
"People who had no idea they were sick had enough virus where they could spread it and the only thing they needed to do to spread it was talk to someone else," said Pothof.
COVID-19 is all across the country and not wearing a mask is putting yourself and the people around you at risk.
"There is no way you can know. It is everywhere right now. To think that you live in a location where COVID-19 hasn't reached yet is just not true," said Pothof.
To ensure you're protected, wear a cloth mask that is two layers thick to prevent your droplets from escaping and to protect from other droplets.
Make sure to wash your cloth masks once a week and change paper masks once every three to 5 days.
"They need to cover your nose and your mouth. If you only cover your mouth, the mask is not effective. Those droplets are coming out your nose and it just doesn't work," said Pothof.
For those thinking there's no repercussions from catching COVID-19, there are health risks that can be long term and affect your everyday life.
"People who have had COVID-19 may not ever return to normal lung function and that can impact them in ways such as in physical exertion and their ability to do things. Their physical stamina may decreased because their lungs are no longer as effective as they were before they had COVID-19," said Pothof.
The other long term health risks of COVID-19 is an inflamed heart.
"Likewise people that have an inflamed heart muscle tissue their hearts don't pump as effectively. The more severe COVID-19 the more inflammation they saw in the heart muscle. And we don't know how long that will last. The more severe the COVID-19 the more inflammation they saw in the heart muscle," said Pothof.
In cities like Madison and Milwaukee, their hospitals are equipped to handle a large influx of people and have special wards to combat COVID-19--unlike the smaller hospitals in our communities.
"Even if you have a small outbreak , you're going to quickly strip the healthcare resources in your community and when that happens only bad things happen to those people," said Pothof.
Make sure to mask up properly, to keep your loved ones and your community safe. For more information, you can visit the CDC website.
MEDFORD - Medford Area School District is voting this November on a 39.9 million dollar referendum for Medford Area High School. If approved the district plans to build additional classrooms to help promote a more creative, collaborative and hands on learning environment. Superintendent Pat Sullivan says, the small classrooms at the school have been a struggle for years for the District. "We don't have enough classroom space. The classroom space we have was built in '68 so they were built small. Very little daylight. Some of them don't have any windows," Sullivan said. "We're using every nook and cranny. Every office space we can. The referendum will also provide an additional gym and theater space.The proposed referenda would cost the public 53 dollar tax impact on a 100,000 household property. The district has already lowered their original proposal to match the public's feedback after the District released a survey. Ultimately, the lack of space is not just an academic struggle for students, but one regarding their safety. "If you had a situation where a student was positive, there's no doubt going to be a number of close contacts. We've been very honest about that and up front. We cannot social distance in many of our classrooms," Sullivan said. As many districts move away from in-person classes, Sullivan says that this is the time to act in order to secure a better tomorrow for the community. "Yeah, COVID-19 I get. It, [there's] a lot of uncertainty. But again, your always going to have something," Sullivan said. "It's never going to be a perfect situation." The district will be having open house Q & A sessions about the proposal later next month. In the mean time, families can reach out to the district to schedule a tour to see the school for themselves.
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