Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Mystery Deepens on Leaked Police Video

More than the video was leaked. Police Department avoids comment. City Attorney helping FPC investigation.

By - Feb 18th, 2020 11:23 am
Police Administration Building, 951 N. James Lovell St. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Police Administration Building, 951 N. James Lovell St. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Questions continue to swirl around the video that was leaked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of the police questioning developer Kalan Haywood, Sr., regarding a possible sexual assault. In fact, the leaked information included not just the video, but other information from the criminal investigation. And the leak was likely to have come from someone within the police department, which should have prompted an internal investigation by the department. But it’s now been two months since the leak happened and far from clear what progress has been made with any investigation. 

Meanwhile, Urban Milwaukee has learned the City Attorney’s office has been working with the Fire and Police Commission (FPC) on choosing an investigator to conduct a probe of the leaked video. The FPC has a meeting Thursday at which more details will be revealed.  

It was back on December 17 that the Journal Sentinel used the leaked police investigation video to raise questions about FPC board chairman and attorney Steven M. DeVougas. The video showed DeVougas had attended the police questioning of Haywood, an obvious conflict of interest, since the FPC oversees the department and Police Chief Alfonso Morales. 

Yet the story simply ignored the other issue here: had someone leaked the video to put pressure on DeVougas to stop delaying the award of a permanent four-year contract to Chief Morales? In fact, the story quoted Morales himself criticizing DeVougas, saying “When a member of our oversight commission provides criminal defense in a matter being investigated by our department, it places our members in an extremely difficult position and risks compromising the integrity of that investigation.” 

Morales had nothing to say about an equally troubling aspect of the story, that this information was leaked in the first place. 

Three days later the Journal Sentinel did a story revealing that the questioning of Haywood took place not at a police station, but in the far more comfy setting of the the department’s Sensitive Crimes Unit at Sojourner Family Peace Center, which includes a domestic violence shelter, and where suspected assailants are never supposed to be questioned. This raises the question whether the police department was doing a favor to DeVougas and Haywood in how they handled the case. Yet the story never explicitly raised this question and instead concentrated on whether DeVougas had a conflict and Haywood had committed a crime.

If the person who leaked the information to the JS wanted to put a target on the back of DeVougas and pressure the FPC to award a four-year contract to Morales, that’s just what happened: The FPC quickly voted (with DeVougas voting no) to give Morales the contract. And Ald. Bob Donovan asked the City Attorney to examine whether DeVougas broke any ethical rules, and the City Attorney referred the matter to the state Office of Lawyer Regulation. That office recently determined that while the situation “raised issues that were of concern”, it did not justify a formal investigation of DeVougas.  

Meanwhile there remains the far more troubling question of the leaked information: this is something the police department should have been carefully guarding, to protect the identity of both the accused and accuser. Haywood, who has not been charge with anything, was made to look suspicious because of the JS story. Worse, enough information about the case was reported that the alleged victim effectively lost her anonymity. 

“There were enough details in the story to identify her,” an inside source close to the Sensitive Crimes Unit told Urban Milwaukee. “That has never happened before on a sexual assault investigation.” 

The JS story indicated it had “police reports” and the video and that “reporters reviewed the records over the weekend,” which raised suspicions by many that the entire investigative file had been leaked to the Journal Sentinel. Reporter Gina Barton, when emailed about this, said “Any statements that we received the entire investigation file are inaccurate.” But it’s clear the newspaper received a lot of information. 

And that information “came from within the department”, as Ald. Nik Kovac charged at a committee meeting of the Milwaukee Common Council. “The department did not disavow it.”

At that same meeting Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs expressed her outrage that a sexual assault victim’s identity had been leaked. “For a department that is supposed to uphold the law to be the very one that, it appears, leaks information about the potential, possible sexual assault victim to the media, to the public, is alarming.”

As a source close to the department told Urban Milwaukee: “Almost everything that was done violates how you do an investigation like this. There has to be an audit trail of the leaked video.” In short, even if an outsider leaked the information, it could not have been obtained without the help of someone within the department. 

Yet it was only in late January, when asked about the leaked video at a public listening session, that Morales addressed the issue, saying he didn’t leak the video and “we’re looking into it,” without specifying if a formal investigation had been launched.

A few days later, as the uproar over the leak intensified, the department issued a curious statement, dated January 30, saying: “The Milwaukee Police Department takes the release of confidential information seriously. The Department’s silence on a recent incident should not be interpreted as participating in or condoning this behavior.”

Except the the department wasn’t silent: Morales condemned DeVougas without saying a word about the leaked information. 

One of the most important things a police chief does is communicate with the public. A chief who was concerned about this leak would have publicly announced a formal internal department investigation. Instead Morales waited until he was forced by the public to address the issue.

The January 30 statement also said: “Once we became aware of a news story involving the release of a video of an out-of-custody interview, the Department immediately began to investigate whether the release came from within MPD. That investigation is ongoing.” 

That would mean the investigation began by at least December 17, if not earlier, and yet the public wasn’t informed of this until January 30. As to when the investigation is expected to be completed, and just how much information was leaked, the department declined to answer these questions from Urban Milwaukee. 

In the meantime the Fire & Police Commission voted to commission an investigation of the matter. City Attorney Grant Langley confirmed to Urban Milwaukee that his office is working with the FPC but would not disclose the details. But a well-connected source says the City Attorney’s office is helping the FPC choose and hire an outside investigator and it will likely be someone from within the state. That still leaves the question of how the investigation will be paid for: does the FPC have a budget for this or must it secure funding from the Common Council? FPC executive director Griselda Aldrete did not respond to Urban Milwaukee’s request for comments. 

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