MILWAUKEE -- Paul Wise, the Milwaukee man facing multiple charges in connection with an alleged assault and fire near Park Place and Downer Avenue in Milwaukee on Saturday, Aug. 31, entered a plea of not guilty Friday, Sept. 13 during his preliminary hearing. The court found probable cause and bound Wise over for trial. A scheduling conference has been set for Sept. 23.
Wise, 52, faces the following criminal counts:
- Arson of building
- Misdemeanor battery
- First degree recklessly endangering safety (three counts)
According to the criminal complaint, police were dispatched to a residence on E. Park Place on the evening of Aug. 31. The 911 caller indicated he was an acquaintance of a man who alleged he was “the victim of a battery,” the complaint says. Just three minutes after the 911 call was made, the 911 caller indicated there was now fire on the third floor of the same building. All eight people who lived in the building were evacuated safely.
When fire crews arrived on the scene, they saw “flames of approximately 25 to 30 feet from the roof of the structure.” It also appeared as if the entire third floor of the building was engulfed in flames. The man who said he was assaulted was “displaying signs of shock, had injuries to his lower lip and chin area, as well as a laceration and lump on his right elbow.”
The victim told police Wise assaulted him — that “he knew the defendant as he has taken the defendant in from time to time as a good Samaritan.” On Aug. 31, the victim indicated Wise was at his apartment “having a few drinks together when the defendant began to assault (the victim) without provocation.” The victim indicated to police “he feared for his life and thought the defendant was going to kill him.”
"He got up to make a drink, and then all of a sudden, he was attacked from behind," said Detective Tiffany Skonieczny, Milwaukee Police Department.
The criminal complaint against Wise says the victim “was able to escape and ran downstairs to his bedroom on the 2nd floor of the house.” He then jumped down onto a second floor balcony to another person’s apartment where the call to 911 was made.
Wise was arrested on Sept. 2. When interviewed by police, he “admitted to being at the apartment with (the victim) and stated that he had gotten into an argument” with him. Wise stated “bad choices were made and things got out of hand.” He told police, “I’ll be honest with you. I got mad and upset with (the victim). That’s what happened — it got out of control. I left — I thought it went out, the fire.”
"He relayed that he got upset with the victim," said Det. Skonieczny. "Things got out of control. He thought the fire was out and he left."
Fire investigators determined the cause of the fire was “incendiary — one that is deliberately set.” They say damage to the building was estimated at $500,000. Damage to the contents of the building is $200,000.
Wise's attorney argues his client's words don't prove guilt. He asked the court to drop the case.
"Clearly, he doesn't admit to starting the fire," said Wise's attorney. "Sure, he may have been in the building, but that's not enough to say he actually started this fire."
The court commissioner ruled there is enough evidence to believe Wise committed the crime. He's behind bars, awaiting trial.
There were eight people in the building the night of the fire. All escaped without injury, but the families lost everything they owned.
Wise made his initial appearance in court on Saturday, Sept. 7. Cash bond was set at $10,000. Wise is due back in court for a preliminary hearing on Friday, Sept. 13.