MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The four Milwaukee police officers charged for criminal misconduct related to illegal strip searches will face two separate trials.
During their pre-trial hearing Tuesday, February 5th a Milwaukee County judge granted a motion allowing Jeffrey Dollhopf, Brian Kozelek and Jacob Knight to be tried separately from Michael Vagnini.
Dollhopf, Kozelke and Knight filed a motion to have their cases heard separately from Vagnini because he is accused of the most aggressive actions.
34-year-old Officer Michael Vagnini faces 25 counts of violating the strip search law, misconduct in public office and second-degree sexual assault. If convicted of these crimes, Vagnini faces up to 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
41-year-old Officer Jeffrey Dollhopf faces two counts of violating the strip search law and two counts of misconduct in public office.
Officers Brian Kozelek, 33 and Jacob Knight, 31 each face one count of violating the strip search law and one count of misconduct in public office.
Defense Attorney Jonathan Safran represents three people who are victims in the state's investigation into the illegal strip searches and body cavity searches. He says he is not surprised the cases have been divided.
"Defendants would prefer to sever the cases because they prefer there be less of this guilt by association. I can certainly understand and appreciate from a jury's standpoint of having to separate all of those things out that there could be an argument of prejudice for the other three officers," Safran said.
Nonetheless, Safran says the state will argue there is guilt by association, but Safran feels dividing into two cases makes it a fair process.
The criminal complaint against the officers details several instances in which illegal strip searches were allegedly conducted. Many of the allegations began with a traffic stop, leading to a pat down and eventually what prosecutors say were illegal cavity searches.
The complaint details multiple other instances in which the officers accused made illegal strip searches during traffic stops as well as at the District 5 police station. In each of the cases, the officers were allegedly attempting to get drugs they believed were concealed within body cavities on the persons they were searching.
According to the police department, an officer is allowed to perform a strip search when they have written permission from the chief, and have probable cause to believe the detained person is concealing a weapon. These types of searches are not allowed to take place in front of the eyes of anyone not conducting the search.
Under the department’s policy and state law, cavity searches may only be performed by physicians, physician’s assistants or nurses.
Originally, seven officers and one supervisor were taken off the streets in connection with the investigation. Four were restored to active duty.
If an officer is found to have conducted an illegal strip search, they could face up to 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. The four officers charged have been suspended with pay.
Michael Vanini's trial is scheduled to begin April 29th.
Jeffrey Dollhopf, Brian Kozelek and Jacob Knight's trial will begin June 3rd.
CLICK HERE for additional coverage on the alleged illegal strip searches conducted by MPD officers.