Court Watch

Deputy City Attorney Accused of Racism

Defense attorney calls for investigation of Deputy City Attorney Jan Smokowicz.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Mar 11th, 2020 03:05 pm
Gavel.

Gavel.

A lawyer on Thursday called for an investigation into a Milwaukee deputy city attorney’s suggestion to a jury that the African American plaintiff in an excessive force lawsuit would be irresponsible to have children if police injured him as badly as he claimed.

Deputy City Attorney Jan Smokowicz‘s comments were racist or close to it, attorney Nathaniel Cade said.

“Now you’re saying a black man should not have children because he’s injured,” Cade said. “Would you say that to a veteran of a war?”

“Maybe he [Smokowicz] should not be handling these civil rights case if he harbors these views,” Cade said.

The investigation should be ordered by City Attorney Grant Langley or by challenger Tearman Spencer if he wins the April 7 general election, Cade said.

Smokowicz said Cade’s recollection of his comment “is not accurate and understanding my actual remarks requires the context of the testimony provided by the plaintiff in the case.

“Mr. [Jimmy] Harris testified that his shoulder injury from the incident with the police was so severe that he could not even help change his child’s diapers,” Smokowicz said. “In my closing argument, I asserted that the jury should conclude that Mr. Harris was embellishing the degree of his injuries. I said, in particular, that I was certain he was not the type of person who would be so irresponsible as to leave to the mother of two of his children, born after the incident, the sole responsibility for their care.

“There was no racism in this statement—implicit or explicit. Mr. Cade’s demand for any inquiry is completely unfounded,” he said.

Cade represented Jimmy Harris, 47, in a federal court lawsuit alleging police used excessive force and violated Harris’ constitutional rights when they arrested him after a traffic stop in November 2010.

​A jury found in Harris’ favor Wednesday and awarded him $1.67 million in damages.

Harris alleged in his lawsuit, among other things, that Officer Froilan Santiago injured Harris’ recently operated-upon rotator cuff during the arrest, which led to long-term medical problems that plague him to this day.

The Harris case is just the latest in a series of lawsuits against the police that have cost the city millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts.

“I would hope the city council would go into a closed session and make some decisions on how they want to handle this case and other cases because that’s reflective of the police force they have,” Cade said.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.” The group filed filed a complaint against Officer Froilan Santiago with the Fire and Police Commission (FPC), contending he made “irresponsible, unprofessional” comments in a disposition regarding the arrest of Jimmy Harris  that were “an insult to the residents of Milwaukee.” The FPC rejected the complaint.

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