Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Mystery of Flynn Vs. Regan

Is the police chief or Fire & Police boss guilty of official misconduct?

By - Feb 15th, 2018 01:39 pm
MaryNell Regan and Edward Flynn.

MaryNell Regan and Edward Flynn.

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.”

The security guard is a sergeant in the Milwaukee Police Department and Sgrignuoli is a captain, so he was using his rank to demand official videos for personal reasons, a violation of department protocol. The sergeant was concerned and let aides to Mayor Tom Barrett know, and Barrett’s staff told him to let police department higher ups know.

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?

At any rate, the case became public because unredacted documents of the investigation were leaked to veteran WISN reporter Colleen Henry. The timing of this, just before Flynn was done with the job, and at a time when he was been criticizing the Fire and Police Commission’s handling of the search for a new chief, left some suspicious that Flynn leaked the file.

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.

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9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Mystery of Flynn Vs. Regan”

  1. Gorv says:

    Flynn hates Milwaukee – look back at the last month of interviews, has he ever said anything positive about the city or the people? Just a long string of name calling and pumping up his own ego. What a horrible leader….
    He has no credibility and there is no reason to believe his version of events. He’s just mad that the city leaders that remain here didn’t bow down to him and he’s trying to stick it in their eye on his was out. He must have been especially irritated that a WOMAN of all people would have held the executive director job and exercised any level of power over him.

  2. PMD says:

    He has been extremely unpleasant in recent interviews. I get it. It’s a hard job and you’re under constant scrutiny. You get attacked from all sides. But surely a man like Flynn is aware of that when he accepts the job. He did a big WUWM interview the other day and he sounds so petty and whiny. He’s defensive, he lashes out at everyone, and his tone is abrasive. He is playing the besieged victim all over town lately. It’s a bad way to leave the job and it makes him look thin-skinned and only concerned about all of the ways he’s been wronged. He should never be forgiven for how he slandered Dontre Hamilton after that shooting. It was atrocious and disgusting and reprehensible and as far as I know he’s never apologized for making those false statements about Dontre. So long Ed.

  3. Matt says:

    If anyone had ever actually read the leaked report from the Justice Department they would be struck by the description of the Fire and Police Commission and how it differs from what we imagine. Its a council of nitwits with a disturbing amount of power.

  4. Thank Bruce for opening a new window into who was out of line.

  5. Barrett Sux says:

    Time to clean house…get rid of MaryNell Regan, start a recall of idiot Barrett, and the failure Flynn has already moved on. Sounds like a nightmare of childish activity or a love triangle. The city deserves better than this garbage.

  6. DairyStateMom says:

    Wow, did PMD and I hear the same interview? Yeah, I thought Flynn maybe was on the grumpy side, but “whiny”? “Defensive”? “Abrasive”? This isn’t to suggest that I’ve always agreed with him — I haven’t — but I think he’s pretty smart and he’s better at nuance than most cops are (ok, that probably sets the bar pretty low). In any case, It’s been quite a ride with him, and the story with Regan will probably turn out to be more of the same.

  7. PMD says:

    It doesn’t sound like you listened to it since you actually say nothing about the interview itself. Rather, you make general comments about Flynn himself. There’s a big difference. I think he’s a smart man and I don’t think he was a bad chief, but in his farewell tour he has absolutely come across as incredibly defensive and abrasive. Not just in that interview, but others as well.

  8. Tom bamberger says:

    Sometimes someone who is a little “abrasive” is really smart, knows their stuff, and does a really good job.

    But not in Milwaukee, apparently.

    Think we could make more of effort to separate “personality” from results and accomplishments?

  9. PMD says:

    I never said Flynn isn’t smart or didn’t achieve anything noteworthy. This story is about a feud he had on his way out, and I observed that as of late, right before retirement, he came across in certain ways. That is relevant to this particular story. His 10-year record is another story.

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