Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

DeVougas Resigns From Fire & Police Commission

Attorney was subject of police video leak that resulted in ethics investigation.

By - Feb 15th, 2021 04:50 pm
Steven M. DeVougas. Photo from the Fire and Police Commission.

Steven M. DeVougas. Photo from the Fire and Police Commission.

The Fire & Police Commission, Milwaukee’s police and fire oversight board, has suffered its second resignation in five months.

Steven M. DeVougas, an attorney, resigned from the commission Monday.

“After consulting with my family, I am humbly submitting my formal resignation from the City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission,” wrote DeVougas. “It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Milwaukee in this capacity. I am proud of the Commission’s work during my almost eight-year tenure. However, it is time that I conclude this chapter of my service to our great city. For me, this position has always been about the work and the people.”

He follows Raymond Robakowski, who resigned unexpectedly in October.

The commission has been engulfed in controversy for over a year, and DeVougas has often found himself at the center of it.

In December 2019, a police department leak showed that DeVougas represented a client, Kalan Haywood, before the police department, a conflict of interest.

The leak benefitted Alfonso Morales, who was serving out the remainder of former chief Edward A. Flynn‘s term and seeking a four-year contract. It shined the spotlight on DeVougas who was then chair of the FPC and was seemed in no hurry to give Morales his contract. The controversy pushed the FPC to take up the matter and Morales was awarded the contract, with DeVougas voting no.

DeVougas ended up being the subject of an ongoing investigation by the city’s Ethics Board. The board has discussed DeVougas’ lack of cooperation with its investigation.

A third-party report on the leak criticized both the chief and DeVougas. Mayor Tom Barrett said he didn’t think DeVougas should remain on the commission.

DeVougas, the commission’s chair, held a press conference defending his record before a July meeting, By then dissatisfaction with Morales’ handling of the Black Lives Matters protests and other matters led DeVougas and his fellow commissioners to issue 11 performance directives to the chief. On August 6th the commission voted unanimously to fire Morales before the timeline on all of the directives had expired. It also elected Nelson Soler chair to replace DeVougas.

That quick demotion triggered a successful lawsuit from Morales. A judge ruled he was denied his due process rights and reinstated the chief. Morales remains in retirement and is reportedly negotiating a settlement with the city.

Now DeVougas is leaving. But not without blaming the city’s political culture for resisting change.

“Although we are not perfect, I have found my fellow Commissioners to be dedicated civil servants. We may have differences of opinion, but we are generally cordial and have a professional and collegial relationship. We have open and honest conversations about the decisions we make and how we get there. I have never met a group of people so dedicated to doing the right thing the right way. However, what I have seen is a concerted effort by various entities and individuals to undermine the credibility and the authority of the FPC. The ‘powers that be’ benefit from weakening the Commission. They do not want us to push for change and to hold people accountable,” wrote DeVougas.

The commission has struggled to enact change. After Robakowski resigned following an argument with Soler, the six remaining members tied repeatedly in selecting a new chief.

A seventh, tie-breaking vote was added when the Common Council confirmed Barrett’s appointment of Amanda Avalos in January. But the commission has held off voting on a new chair until March at the earliest.

Now it’s back to six members. Avalos hasn’t said which candidate she is backing, but DeVougas repeatedly backed Hoyt Mahaley.

The commission could lose another member soon. Ann Wilson has served with an expired term since 2018, but Barrett moved for her reappointment in late 2020. A council committee, after multiple closed session meetings, is recommending she be rejected.

Wilson’s reappointment hearings triggered an Inspector General’s report to resolve conflicting accounts on if and when the City Attorney’s Office provided legal advice regarding the Morales situation. That report came out last week and said the City Attorney provided advice that the commissioners ignored.

Wilson’s rejection wouldn’t immediately remove her from the commission. She could serve until a replacement is confirmed or she resigns.

The part-time commissioners are paid $6,600 per year and serve five-year terms. DeVougas was first appointed to the commission in 2013 and his second term was scheduled to expire in 2023.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.

3 thoughts on “City Hall: DeVougas Resigns From Fire & Police Commission”

  1. Paul Mozina says:

    I disagree with Jeramey’s opinions: “ The Fire & Police Commission, Milwaukee’s police and fire oversight board, has suffered its second resignation in five months.”, and “The leak benefitted Alfonso Morales, who was serving out the remainder of former chief Edward A. Flynn‘s term and seeking a four-year contract.”

    Former FPC Commissioner DeVougas had a fundamental and, from an oversight perspective, fatally flawed, notion of the mission and mandate of the FPC.

    This became abundantly clear to me at the May 16, 2019 FPC meeting when they were considering changes to SOP 120-Operating While Intoxicated. The use of Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) by the MPD was finally, after many years, being acknowledged by the MPD and codified into the policy. I spoke at the meeting in opposition based on the pseudo-science used by the DREs. And here is what Commissioner DeVougas had to say, which effectively cut off debate on the merits of using DREs:

    “… the point of clarification, I think it’s probably gets into the policies versus operations aspect. The DRE was part of your operations, which is typically out of the purview of the Fire and Police Commission. So it wasn’t anything unlawful on the department’s part, they’re just codifying it into a policy which brings it under our purview at this time.”

    The FPC is not “suffering” from the loss of a Commissioner who failed to recognize the supreme authority and duty of the FPC to review and oversee ALL ASPECTS OF THE OPERATIONS OF THE MPD.

    Wisconsin State Statutes §62.50(1m) https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/62/II/50/1m the Fire and Police Commission has the following authority granted:
    (1m) Policy review. The board shall conduct at least once each year a policy review of all aspects of the operations of the police and fire departments of the city.

    FPC Website https://city.milwaukee.gov/fpc/About#.XN4TPC_MxBw
    Under Wisconsin law and the Milwaukee City Charter, the Fire and Police Commission oversees all aspects of Fire Department and Police Department operations.

    At that May 16, 2019 meeting Commissioner Everett Cocroft did recognize what was going on:

    “It’s not in the policy and your already doing it, so you’re just adding what you’re already doing to the policy. We had no idea what a DRE was before y’all brought it here. You’ve pretty much been operating with these DREs without the knowledge of the Fire and Police Commission. If we struck it down y’all could keep doing the same thing.”

    We need Commissioners on the Board who acknowledge and perform their duty to review and oversee all aspects of the MFD and MPD operations. The Board has no comprehensive plan to do the required annual review and, far from it, former Commissioner DeVougas didn’t even think it was under the Board’s “purview”. There are many aspects of the MPD’s operations that have not been reviewed by the FPC including: no-knock search warrants, the use of confidential informants, interrogations done in District lockups prior to booking with NO defense attorneys present, comprehensive reporting on Civil Asset Forfeiture and the handling of EXCESSIVE CASH discovered during traffic stops and other encounters… the list goes on and on.

    Secondly, there is no evidence presented to support the claim that “The leak benefitted Alfonso Morales, who was serving out the remainder of former chief Edward A. Flynn‘s term and seeking a four-year contract.” In fact, Mr. Mel Johnson addressed this very question in his report submitted to the FPC on July 2, 2020 (https://milwaukee.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4585060&GUID=ACC6B86D-3F9D-4507-B3EC-E3E66D41FD46&Options=&Search=) and he concluded:

    “Based on the evidence summarized in this section, there is little or no reason to conclude that, even if the Haywood interview was handled in a way that benefitted Haywood and hurt the case against him, that was done for an improper reason, including a purpose of currying favor with DeVougas to facilitate Morales’ reappointment as police chief.”

    and

    “Any remaining doubt about whether Haywood received special treatment in order to gain DeVougas’ help for Morales’ reappointment, is seemingly wiped away by the fact that if that was the plan· it certainly didn’t work. DeVougas did not help Morales get reappointed and in fact made that process more difficult, trying to slow walk the process and ultimately voting against Morales.”

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Paul – Morales benefitted because it at the very least created a distraction that downplayed possible scrutiny (of himself). I don’t think it was leaked to curry favor with DeVougas, it was leaked to put the spotlight on DeVougas and off of Morales. It initially made a commissioner look bad, which gave Morales some public leverage. The long-term fallout is, of course, far more complicated.

  3. Paul Mozina says:

    @Jeramey, good point.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us