The Mystery of Flynn Vs. Regan
Is the police chief or Fire & Police boss guilty of official misconduct?
It may be the last case that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn ever comments on, and it’s a doozy.
It’s a murky mystery with soap opera elements pitting the retiring top cop against his ostensible boss, Fire and Police Commission Executive Director MaryNell Regan. Both accuse the other of misconduct in office. Beyond that, not much is clear.
At the center of the mystery is Milwaukee Police Capt. Johnny Sgrignuoli, a longtime veteran of the department who got to know Regan, probably during the years she served as an assistant city attorney specializing in cases involving the police and fire departments. It’s not unknown for police and attorneys working on cases to strike up a friendship (see “Law and Order”), and the two had another connection as well: both pursued postgraduate degrees from Marquette University: Regan in law and and Sgrignuoli from its school of management.
More recently each was going through a separation from their respective spouse, and may have gotten more friendly with each other, I’m told.
The turmoil in Sgrignuoli’s life, it appears, led him to review surveillance video at City Hall, where the Milwaukee Police Department maintains cameras, including one overlooking the building’s parking garage. This was back in January or February of 2017, sources tell me, when Sgrignuoli told the City Hall security guard he wanted to see the surveillance tapes for “personal reasons.”
This led to an internal affairs investigation of Sgrignuoli. As it happens, Sgrignuoli had once run this department and was very familiar with its operations, and did his best to frustrate the effort, an MPD source tells me. According to a story by WISN12 News, which was leaked the documents from the investigation, Sgrignuoli offered varying explanations for why he viewed the surveillance tape, first saying he was “helping out a friend,” and then changing his story to “I was looking for my wife and potentially a man I know.”
Meanwhile, a police officer happened to see Sgrignuoli and Regan together at Total Wine, buying some liquor or wine, and took a photo of them. The photo, along with the fact that the surveillance video Sgrignuoli viewed was at a time Regan was likely to be leaving City Hall, led investigators to conclude Sgrignuoli was tracking Ms. Regan, the source tells me.
But Regan got wind of the investigation and was concerned she was being investigated. So she asked the mayor to intervene. “I called the chief, and he assured me that they were not investigating her personal life,” Barrett told WISN.
From there things get very murky. Flynn says the investigation was always about Sgrignuoli and the “major concern” regarding Regan was “that she might be being stalked,” he told the Journal Sentinel. But if so why didn’t investigators contact Regan and ask if she had any concerns about Sgrignuoli? That apparently never happened.
But Regan’s handling of this also raises questions. Flynn has said Regan twice contacted him and warned him to discontinue the investigation. Regan denies this and told WISN “I asked him to stop investigating me.”
But she offered a different story to the Journal Sentinel. “I was deeply disturbed to learn this week that he used the city’s $330 million agency (the police department) to personally conduct surveillance on me, and others, for over a year, purely for retaliation,” Regan charged.
As to Flynn’s claim that she threatened a legal suit, Regan told the Journal Sentinel: “I never threatened a lawsuit. I pointed out deficiencies in the investigation that could lead to a lawsuit.”
Her reference to “others” would suggest she was concerned about the investigation of her friend Johnny Sgrignuoli. There is no evidence anyone else was investigated. And it would certainly be inappropriate for Regan, whose agency oversees the police department, to attempt to call off an investigation of a close personal friend of hers.
It’s worth noting that the entire investigation was prompted not by Flynn, but by Barrett, as the mayor has noted. And what we know of the evidence suggests Sgrignuoli violated department rules and then lied about the reason for doing this. It was the latter offense, I’m told, that was the main reason for his ultimate punishment: a five day suspension imposed in August
Is it possible the department dragged on the investigation to put a scare into Regan, whose Fire and Police Commission was becomingly increasingly assertive in its oversight of Flynn? That could be difficult to prove and even if true, might have occurred for a different reason. Sgrignuoli, I’m told, is not well-liked in the department, and was the one who did the internal affairs investigation of Officer Christopher Manney, who was fired by Flynn after he shot and killed Dontre Hamilton. So police may have had this motivation to take their time putting the screws to Sgrignuoli.
The Journal Sentinel story noted that a suspension of five days or less could not be appealed by Sgrignuoli “per the Milwaukee Police Supervisors’ Organization contract.” Was that punishment chosen to keep the details of the case secret, or simply because his conduct didn’t merit a tougher punishment?
But would he choose Henry, who aggressively covered Flynn’s affair with journalist Jessica McBride years ago, to the great embarrassment of the chief? The police department has long been a leaky ship, and the last leak before this, of the draft report of the federal Department of Justice’s analysis of the MPD, was very damaging to Flynn. When you add in that many in the department don’t like Sgrignuoli, the list of those who might want to leak the case file gets pretty long.
So where does that leave us? Barrett issued a statement suggesting the Fire & Police Commission should investigate “who are the responsible parties” for leaking the case files. FPC Commission Chairman Steven DeVougas told the Journal Sentinel he would order an investigation “into this misuse of city resources” by the police department.
But Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton seems to be aiming his fire at Regan. “There are some clear bright lines that should tell you that this is a situation that you should personally not get involved with because of the types of relationships you’re involved in,” he told WISN. “I mean, you don’t even want the appearance of interfering,” he emphasized.
Hamilton said he intended to investigate this, but precisely how was not made clear. This whole murky situation looks like it’s going to get even messier.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.