MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Common Council will consider approval of a group settlement of lawsuits claiming unlawful body cavity and strip searches by the Milwaukee Police Department, Grant Langley, the Milwaukee city attorney, announced Tuesday, December 15th.
These lawsuits allege an unwritten policy of unlawful stops and searches by the Milwaukee Police Department.
"For many clients, it's been very, very tough," Attorney Jonathan Safran said.
The settlement provides a total of $5 million that will cover the attorney fees and costs incurred by five law firms representing 74 plaintiffs and claimants, and will end litigation in 14 lawsuits pending in federal court, according to the city attorney.
The city attorney says the settlement provides approximately $2.3 million in attorney fees and costs, and $2.7 million in compensation to the plaintiffs.
The agreement also provides that the plaintiffs will pay almost $900,000 in child support, restitution and other documented debts.
Although the city has denied liability in all cases, the city attorney says the settlement is in the city’s best interests when considering the risk of potential compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
"We think it's a good resolution for everyone involved," Safran said. "The hope is that this provides accountability and allows them to reach a resolution so that they can move on with their lives and again, put this behind them."
The news that the Milwaukee Common Council will consider this settlement comes after four Milwaukee police officers were fired and convicted of crimes. One of those former officers, Michael Vagnini, was sentenced to more than two years in prison.
"This was a sad chapter in the Milwaukee Police Department," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. "When there were some bad apples, the chief took the steps get them out of the bushel. This is best for the taxpayers in the city of Milwaukee."
"I'm glad we've been able to resolve that chapter in regard to the Milwaukee Police Department and the history that has occurred over the last couple of years," Safran said.
The following statement was issued earlier Tuesday by Safran on behalf of the attorneys for the 74 African-American men who have alleged they were subjected to illegal and unconstitutional strip searches and body cavity searches by Milwaukee Police Department officers:
"Lawyers for 74 African American men who have alleged that they were subjected to illegal and unconstitutional strip and body cavity searches are announcing (Tuesday) that they have reached agreement with the Milwaukee City Attorney’s Office on a precedent setting $5 million settlement. Most of the 74 men were unconstitutionally searched by a unit of white Milwaukee Police Department (“MPD”) officers led by former officer Michael Vagnini, who was subsequently charged and convicted of engaging in official misconduct and illegal strip searches.
A team of twelve lawyers from two Chicago and three Milwaukee law firms spent more than two years uncovering, analyzing and presenting a voluminous amount of evidence which included testimony and documentation demonstrating that the MPD engaged in a pattern and practice of illegal searches of African American men. The legal team’s work included the questioning under oath of some 50 MPD officers from MPD Chief Edward Flynn and former MPD Chief Nanette Hegerty to Vagnini and his fellow officers, representing many of the search victims at their depositions, obtaining from the City more than 100,000 pages in documents, and filing thousands of pages in briefs in response to numerous City's motions, work that necessitated 7000 to 8000 hours in billable attorney time, and more than $200,000 in out‐of‐pocket costs.
The settlement, representing the largest number of civil rights claimants in a police misconduct settlement against the City of Milwaukee, is apportioned as follows: the 74 men will share, after out‐of‐pocket costs are deducted, $2,716,173 with each individual claimant, after being placed, for compensation purposes, into one of three categories, depending on the nature of the search that he suffered. The five law firms will share $2,065,000 in attorneys’ fees, apportioned in accordance with the billable time expended on the case, and will be reimbursed for their respective out‐of‐pocket costs and expenses in the amount of $218,827. At the City’s insistence, the men have agreed to satisfy the claims of many of their creditors out of their share of the money. The agreement will not be final until the City of Milwaukee Common Council and Mayor Barrett give approval, which is expected to occur by the end of January."
Attorney Robin Shellow, who has also represented victims in this case, issued this statement:
"A serious conversation needs to happen. However, at this critical juncture, to preserve the interests of the 74 plaintiffs, it is necessary to postpone this conversation for another day. For the time being, in lieu of talk, I am asking for action. Consider it a plea, or challenge, which is mine alone. No shots fired for 74 days. Take the bullet out of the chamber in honor of the 74 plaintiffs who had the courage to confront an uncomfortable truth and pursue justice over the course of the past three years. 100 years ago, almost to the day, a truce in the spirit of the holidays occurred along the battlefields of Europe during the First World War. As this most violent year draws to a close, it is my hope that Chief Flynn—rather than decrying the useless death of a child sitting on their grandfather’s lap—will be able to say “All quiet on the Milwaukee front."