‘Nice meeting Sterling Brown at work:’ Federal lawsuit says online actions of officer show racial bias

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Bucks' guard Sterling Brown sued the city of Milwaukee and its police department Tuesday, saying officers' use of a stun gun during his arrest for a parking violation constitutes excessive force and that they targeted him because he is black.

Brown's attorney Mark Thomsen filed the lawsuit in federal court, accusing police of "discriminating against Mr. Brown on the basis of his race." The lawsuit alleges officers involved in his arrest used their incident report to try to reframe what happened to give the impression Brown was resisted and obstructed them.

"Mr. Brown hopes that instead of the typical denial of the claims ... the city actually admit to the wrongs, admit that his constitutional rights were violated," Thomsen said at a news conference outside City Hall after filing the lawsuit.

Brown had been talking with officers while waiting for a citation for illegally parking in a disabled spot outside a Walgreens at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 26, when officers took him down because he didn't immediately remove his hands from his pockets as ordered. An officer yells: "Taser! Taser! Taser!"

Brown never appeared to threaten police before or during his arrest, according to police body-camera videos.

Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement he hopes something good comes from the lawsuit.

"I'm hopeful this incident will be a turning point and allow us to take those actions necessary to improve police community relations," he said.

Police Chief Alfonso Morales has not responded to an Associated Press request for comment. A spokesperson said he will comment Thursday after the Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee meeting.

Sterling Brown arrest

Morales apologized to Brown last month when body-camera video of the arrest was released. Brown wasn't charged with anything and three officers were disciplined, with suspensions ranging from two to 15 days.

Eight other officers were ordered to undergo remedial training in professional communications.

A group of officers discussing the arrest shortly after it happened talked about "trying to protect" themselves from possible backlash over their confrontation with an NBA player and synchronized "their stories concerning what took place in the parking lot," the lawsuit said.

Some of the details from their report made it into Morales' written complaint about the officers' actions, according to the lawsuit, with the chief saying Brown "refused to comply with a directive to remove his hands from his pockets and became resistive towards officers."

One officer reacted to the arrest with glee, according to the lawsuit, which showed screenshots of him going on Twitter to mock Brown.

"Nice meeting Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks at work this morning! Lol#FearTheDeer," one tweet read, referencing a slogan used to cheer on the Bucks at games. That same officer posted a racist meme of Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, according to a screenshot from the lawsuit.

"If there's really discipline going on, how can you gloat about this?" said Thomsen.

While Alderman Mark Borkowski said this kind of behavior won't be tolerated, he said he credits Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, who took over for Ed Flynn in February, for doing the "best he can."

Alderman Mark Borkowski

"This is brand new to him. This is high profile," said Borkowski.

Thomsen said his client's experience is part of a larger problem across the city.

"African-American men have been arrested, abused and in the case of Dontre Hamilton, killed, as a result of bad police work," said Thomsen.

The lawsuit does not request a specific dollar amount. Thomsen said some of the officers should be fired for wasting taxpayer dollars.

Police have only released the body camera video of the first officer who contacted Brown. But additional body camera and squad car videos showed the moments after officers used a stun gun on him. In one, Brown is on the ground and handcuffed when an officer puts one of his boots on Brown's ankle, holding it there. Brown doesn't mention being in any discomfort but he questions the officer's actions.

"C'mon man, you're stepping on my ankle for what?" Brown said. In response, the officer said he was trying to prevent Brown from kicking anyone.

Other videos showed an officer talking with two colleagues seating in a squad car. They talked about how they could be perceived as racist for arresting a black Bucks player, with one saying if anything goes wrong, it "is going to be, 'Ooh, the Milwaukee Police Department is all racist, blah, blah, blah.'"

Milwaukee police released video showing one angle of the arrest on May 23:

In separate body camera video obtained by FOX6 News, an officer is seen stepping on Brown's ankle after the Taser had been used and Brown had been handcuffed. Brown asks the officer why he is stepping on his ankle.

Sterling Brown: "I ain't got no reason to kick y'all, man."

Brown can be seen surrounded by officers, as he asks repeatedly "all of this for what?"

An officer soon recognized his name, and asked whether he was a Bucks' player.

Brown can then be seen saying "I look familiar, don't I?"

Sterling Brown: "You just said it so I look familiar."

Officer: "I remember the name."

Sterling Brown: "Yeah I know. I look familiar. I need all of y'all's names on that report."

Another video shows officers chit-chatting about the arrest.

Officer: "A douchebag driver is in custody and it doesn't list to him."

There's also discussion in the video about how it will make MPD look.

Officer: "We're trying to protect ourselves."

Officer: "Oh cuz he's a Bucks' player."

Officer: "Yeah, cuz he plays for the Bucks. If he makes a (expletive) complaint it's gonna be a media firestorm. Any little (expletive) that goes wrong, it's gonna be 'ohhh MPD is all racist blah blah.'"

One officer comments on the overtime the arrest will cost.

Officer (singing): "Money, money, money, money, money, money."

At the time, police said Brown was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest after he was illegally parked.

Sterling Brown: "Y'all surrounding me for what? I'm just asking questions because I didn't do anything."

Officer: "Yeah cuz you walked up and I told you not to walk up on me like that."

The non-combative Brown was taken down by multiple officers.

Officer: "Get your hands out of your pockets now."

Sterling Brown: "Relax -- I have stuff in my hands. You want me to drop it?"

The Taser was then used.

Officer: "Tase him, tase him."

While on the ground surrounded by officers, the video shows Brown repeatedly questioned the officers' use of force on him.

Sterling Brown: "Y'all was protecting your boss. All this for what? All this for what?"

Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission has called for an audit of the arrest.

The board wanted to ask questions to Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales about the arrest back on June 7 -- but were unable to because Chief Morales had to leave the FPC meeting as a result of that fatal crash that killed Milwaukee Police Officer Charles Irvine Jr. The FPC said they wanted to learn from the Brown arrest and the changes that can be made.

MPD Chief Alfonso Morales

The filing of the lawsuit was delayed as a result of the incident involving Officer Irvine.

The audit is set to be conducted in three phases, FPC officials said -- looking at protocol, the rationale behind the officers' discipline and changes that need to be made.

Three officers received discipline for their actions back in January. Sean Mahnke got 15 days without pay for "failure to be a role model," and Jeffery Krueger got 10 days for the same violation.

FPC Chairman Steven DeVougas said the board learned of additional body camera footage the same way members of the public did -- through the media. Chief Morales said he hadn't seen all of the video in the case after the new video was obtained by FOX6.