Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Okays Settlement to Sterling Brown

City would pay $400,000. But the Bucks guard isn't expected to accept the offer.

By - Sep 4th, 2019 01:51 pm
Body Worn Camera Video Release of Sterling Brown Arrest

Body Worn Camera Video Release of Sterling Brown Arrest

The Milwaukee Common Council approved a $400,000 settlement offer to Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown on Wednesday morning. The move comes as part of a legal strategy from independently-elected City Attorney Grant Langley, but the offer isn’t likely to be accepted by Brown.

The Bucks guard sued the city in federal court for the use of excessive force and racial discrimination following an incident involving the Milwaukee Police Department outside of a Walgreens early on the morning of January 26th, 2018. Brown, an African American, was parked across two handicapped spaces, with a responding officer calling for backup which escalated to Brown being tased and thrown to the ground. Brown was never charged and body camera footage shows officers being confrontational with Brown from the outset of the interaction.

The settlement offer, viewed by many on the council as unlikely to be accepted by Brown, is designed to limit the extent to which attorney fees could be included in a final judgment should the case go to court, according to Alderman Robert Bauman. Rule 68 of the federal rules of civil procedure, designed to encourage settlements, would prevent a claim for attorney’s fees unless they exceed the settlement offer.

The basketball player is represented by Attorney Mark Thomsen.

But what type of damages could be expected if the measure goes to court and Brown prevails is unclear. Bauman said that Brown’s playing in a game later that night could hurt his claim. But Thomson, in a press conference after the council vote, said Brown was hurt far more than physically. He said the city damaged Brown’s reputation by delaying the release of the body camera video, which he says shows officers acting inappropriately, until May 2018

“I think it completely undervalues the insult,” said Thomsen of the $400,000 offer.

Beyond the dollar amount, the lack of an admission of guilt in the settlement agreement makes it unlikely Brown would take the deal. “That is an absolute condition of any settlement,” said Thomsen Wednesday. “From day one, this case has been about whether this city, my city, can identify a problem and move forward from it.” Thomsen said two officers have already admitted violating Brown’s rights in their depositions. But admissions of guilt aren’t often included in police settlements.

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales apologized for the department’s actions. “The department conducted an investigation into the incident, which revealed members acted inappropriately and those members were recently disciplined,” said the chief in May 2018. Mayor Tom Barrett also apologized. Bauman said Wednesday there is unanimous agreement among city elected officials that Brown was treated poorly.

The full council spent almost an hour Wednesday morning being briefed on the case in closed session by Langley and other members of the City Attorney’s office as part of a special meeting of the Judiciary & Legislation Committee.

“We had an extensive closed session because the item before us is very, very important,” said committee chair Ald. Mark Borkowski. The chair was the lone committee member to vote against the settlement offer.

The measure was then moved to the other end of the third floor of City Hall for the full council to vote on it. Borkowski and Ald. Robert Donovan were the only council members to vote against the offer. Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs abstained from voting on the settlement without explanation.

“I didn’t think I could justify it to my constituents,” said Borkowski in a brief interview. The southwest side alderman, who has voted against other police settlements, said he did not have an issue with the legal strategy behind the offer.


What’s Next?

Thomsen said he was awaiting the final settlement offer and would present it to his client. “I haven’t seen their offer of judgment in writing yet. I haven’t had a chance to review it with Mr. Brown.”

Brown will have 14 days to decide whether to accept the offer.

Depositions are still being taken for the case. Thomsen told the media that Brown has not been deposed by the city, but he is expected to be.

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Related Legislation: File 190341

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