Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Keeps Delaying on Sterling Brown Settlement

Alderman says deal isn't ready to be approved.

By - Jan 11th, 2021 08:01 pm
Sterling Brown and City Hall. Brown photo provided, City Hall photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Sterling Brown and City Hall. Brown photo provided, City Hall photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Professional basketball player Sterling Brown made national news in November when news broke that he had agreed to a settlement with the City of Milwaukee regarding his treatment at the hands of Milwaukee police officers in January 2018. The city would admit officers violated Brown’s constitutional rights as part of the settlement, a landmark admission.

But the city has yet to actually approve the deal.

Instead, a Common Council committee has met twice in closed session and little has been said publicly about why things keep getting delayed.

Brown, then a rookie guard with the Milwaukee Bucks, was observed having parked across handicapped spaces outside of a Walgreens at S. 27th St. and W. National Ave. at 2 a.m. A responding officer called for backup within moments of arriving on the scene, which escalated to Brown being tased and thrown to the ground. Brown, 25, was never charged and body camera footage shows officers being confrontational with Brown from the outset of the interaction.

Now a guard with the Houston Rockets, Brown sued the city in federal court over the matter.

The city would pay Brown $750,000, admit a constitutional violation of Brown’s rights and commit to updating MPD standard operating procedures within 180 days under a settlement introduced by City Attorney Tearman Spencer on November 4th.

But the Common Council has twice declined to vote on the matter after spending hours in closed session.

Dale Bormann, Jr., head of the Milwaukee Police Association, and Carmelo Patti, head of the Milwaukee Police Supervisors’ Association, said in a joint letter that Spencer was in “dereliction of duty” because he didn’t keep their members apprised of the settlement talks. They said neither union has confidence in Spencer, who was elected in April.

Three officers were disciplined by then-chief Alfonso Morales over the incident. Multiple officers admitted violating Brown’s rights during depositions. Milwaukee police officer Erik Andrade was fired after he posted racially charged remarks on social media about Brown following the incident.

The settlement is believed by many to represent the first time the city has admitted police wrongdoing in a case.

Brown’s attorney Mark Thomsen previously said that getting the city to admit it violated his client’s rights was an important part of any settlement. The city offered a $400,000 settlement in 2019, but it was viewed as unlikely to be accepted and publicly declared as part of a legal strategy to protect the city against claims for attorney’s fees should the case go to court.

“After some discussion of this in closed session with the City Attorney, there are still some items being worked on by the city attorney and [Milwaukee Police Department] through the mediation process,” said Judiciary & Legislation Committee chair Alderman Ashanti Hamilton of Brown’s settlement in November.

The committee took up the file again on Monday, and spent over two hours in closed session. The committee returned to a public session just after 7:15 p.m. and quickly moved to hold the matter again.

“We did have some discussion on this in closed session. We are not ready to take action on it yet,” said Hamilton in brief remarks before adjourning the virtual meeting.

Tuesday morning, Alderman Robert Bauman told Urban Milwaukee that the settlement isn’t ready to be approved and is being held at the request of the City Attorney. “The impression was that it was ripe for approval and that isn’t the case,” said Bauman.

Neither Thomsen nor Spencer responded to a request for comment.

The city has paid over $20 million in police misconduct lawsuits since 2015. That total grows by several million when borrowing costs are included.

Brown was a highly-visible participant in the team’s participation in racial justice protest marches this summer. He joined the Rockets in free agency.

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